Organic compounds – Health hazards

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We’re running the BOHS Module W507, Health effects of hazardous substances, in Chester next week. It’s essentially an introduction to the principles of toxicology together with an overview of the effects of some substances encountered in the workplace.

One group of substances commonly found are volatlile organic compounds (VOCs). They’re used for cleaning applications and as solvents in a wide range of products such as fuels, paints, inks and adhesives. They can be supplied on their own (e.g. trichloroethylene used for vapour degreasing ), or as blends or mixtures (e.g. white spirit, petrol etc.).

The main route of absorption for solvents is via inhalation,  due to their volatility.  But skin exposure is important too. VOCs can affect the skin itself and many can be absorbed through intact skin and absorbed into the bloodstream; with some compounds, this can be a major route of entry into the body.

Environmental legislation has led to a reduction in the amount of VOCs used, but according to the latest statistics from DEFRA, in 2012 there were about a 750,000 tonnes of VOCs emitted to atmosphere in Great Britain.

There are many other less volatile organic compounds used in industry. And some of these, such as diisocyanates, epoxies and organophosphates can have serious impacts of human health.

As one of the new International Modules, the exam for W507 is open book. This means that, unlike the previous equivalent British Module M101, it isn’t necessary to memorise a large volume of facts to pass. In the real world occupational hygienists don’t need to be “walking encyclopaedias” as there are plenty of valid resources that can be used to look up details for less common substances. Although I do think good occupational hygienists will know the effects of the more important “common” substances, particularly the ones they’re likely to encounter in the workplace, such as VOCs.

The following Slideshare presentation provides an introduction to the effects of common organic compounds. You’ll learn more if you attend the course!

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