Solvent and Chemical Safety

Originally published on Aug. 23, 2016

Construction workers must sometimes use solvents or chemicals on the jobsite. Some of these are highly toxic and can be harmful to your health. One large exposure can harm you, but so can several very small exposures over a long period of time. A very large exposure can kill you.

We are exposed to solvents and chemicals in these ways:

  • Breathing in vapors, spray mist or dust. An example would be working with bags of concrete without using the proper personal protective equipment.
  • Absorption through the skin.
  • Ingesting them. This might happen when you are having lunch in a work area where airborne contaminants exist.
  • This could happen with a needle prick or by the misuse of a high pressure washer.

Protect yourself against chemical and solvent hazards by following these tips:

  • Make sure you understand the health and fire dangers associated with the solvent or chemical you are using. Read the label and the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the substance.
  • Before you begin, make sure you know how to safely use and work with each solvent or chemical.
  • If you are using a respirator, make sure the respirator has the proper cartridge to protect you from the solvent or chemical you will be using. Change the cartridge if necessary.
  • Never transfer solvents or chemicals into drinking cups or bottles.
  • Make sure your work area is well-ventilated.
  • Wear the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), which may include chemical-splash goggles, a respirator, safety gloves, apron, steel-toed shoes or safety glasses with side shields. Be sure the PPE fits properly and that you are trained in its use.
  • Inspect the PPE before use. Look for defects in the equipment such as cracks, missing parts, rips, etc.
  • Don’t smoke or do hot work when near solvents or chemicals.
  • Know the location of safety showers and eyewash stations and how to use them.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Store solvents and chemicals in a safe storage cabinet that is labeled for their storage and located away from combustible materials.
  • Leave your contaminated clothing at work. If you wear the clothes home, you could expose your family to the hazards associated with the chemical or solvent you have been using. Store the clothing in non-sparking containers with lids.

If you experience headaches, nausea or tiredness, or have difficulty concentrating or breathing and are getting clumsy, stop what you are doing and notify your supervisor immediately that you may have been overly exposed to a solvent or chemical. See a physician.

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