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Managing VOCs for worker safety


Published: Aug 06, 2013

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Many workers are exposed to unsafe indoor environments due to the ignorance of themselves or their employers, partly due to a group of products called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are emitted as a gas from very ordinary items in our surroundings such as glues, plastics, carpet, paint, building materials, printers, paper and the list goes on.

The concentration of VOCs indoors, where we spend most of our time, has been found to be generally ten times that found outdoors.

A common example of poor indoor air quality can be found in most local nail salons that are usually nicely cooled but extremely poorly ventilated.

The air is normally thick with the smell of products and nail technicians sit day in and out inhaling this air not knowing the long term health implications of regularly breathing in a laundry list of chemicals.

Indeed, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) should be clearly labelled and easily available for workers to be aware of product risks and what they can do to protect themselves.

Painters are another group to be concerned about. Whether they are working in a paint booth or painting on a construction site good quality air is important for good health.

The same applies to workers in print shops and garages as examples.

Because there is such a wide variety of compounds, the effects range from limited to toxic and in some cases have been contributing factors in Sick Building Syndrome.

They have unfortunately been linked to some extent to cancer in animals and suspected to cause cancer in humans. They are more commonly attributed to irritations of the eye, throat or nose, to cause nausea, headaches, damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Proper design and use of ventilation systems to extract quantities of air using exhaust fans and replace it with cleaner air from the outside are critical in making spaces safe.

Of course a part of the problem can be attributed to our use or misuse of products as many persons

don’t stop to read the guidelines for products they have used for years, even though some changes may have taken place.

Beyond that a common mistake persons make is mixing cleaning products against the advice of the manufacturer.

This has caught the attention of many agencies including the Carpet and Rug Institute that introduced a green labeling program in 1992 and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has their own set of guidelines called Indoor Air Plus Construction Specifications.

To limit your exposure to VOCs get a fact sheet available on many websites that list the types of products that contain VOCs. Use products as they are intended to be used and avoid mixing chemicals. Store them in original containers in designated storage areas as opposed to occupied spaces, and limit storage amounts by only purchasing as much product as you need.


•We would like to hear how this article has helped you. Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com. Sonia Brown is Principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd and is a registered Professional Engineer.



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