Safety First When Using Organic Solvents and Industrial Organic Solvents

ByTimothy Byron

Today, when most people hear the term "organic" it has a positive connotation. Organic turns our thoughts to eco-conscious food, clothes, and other items created from healthy natural sources and using the least amount of chemicals possible. However, this is not the case with organic solvents and industrial organic solvents. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) actually recognizes many organic solvents as carcinogens. Along with cancer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) relates health hazards such as reproductive damage, toxicity to the nervous system, liver and kidney damage, respiratory illnesses, and dermatitis to exposure to these chemicals.

Even more shocking than the list of health hazards caused by exposure to organic solvents is their presence in so many items used daily on the job and at home. For example, solvents (such as benzene, acetone, toluene, acetic acid, ethanol, methanol, and more) can be found in detergents, glues, adhesives, refrigerants, coolants, paint strippers, cleaners, degreasers, nail polish removers, and so much more. While the odds of completely removing all solvents from your home or workplace are pretty grim, there are ways to ensure your safety when working with these chemicals.

Two of the most significant hazards when working with organic solvents are their flammability and their toxic fumes. Organic solvents in your home should be safely stored away from any source that could ignite. Always open windows and use fans when you are painting, cleaning your oven, or even removing nail polish. Do not forget to take advantage of bathroom fans and the fan in your stove's hood. Wear gloves, masks, and other types of protective gear when possible.

Working with industrial organic solvents, especially large quantities like drums, involves greater safety hazards; however, the same general precautions should still apply. For example, all industrial solvents should be safely grounded to prevent any sparks from igniting the liquid. If the solvents must be used in areas where there is high electrical usage, these areas should be well-secured. Furthermore, many industrial applications involve performing "hot work," such as welding or cutting, in areas where there is high solvent use. To ensure the safety of employees and the worksite, obtain the proper permits, have all solvents completely removed, and properly ventilate the area.

Proper ventilation is a major step towards safely working industrial organic solvents, since their fumes, although occasionally odorless, are exceptionally toxic. Commercial and industrial fans are great for removing fumes at the source by pulling air away from the workspace. If employees must be in contact with industrial organic solvents regularly, businesses should consider installing overhead hoods or fume extractors and provide employees with personal protection equipment to keep the solvents safely away from their clothes and skin.

In addition to these precautions, many companies have decided to use safer alternatives to industrial solvents when possible. For example, many providers offer a variety of low VOC (volatile organic compound) products, such as hand-wipes and degreasers, as well as non-flammable aerosol cleaners, biodegradable cleaning solutions, and environmentally-preferred solvents. These products are great choices for not only protecting your most valuable resource-your employees-but also the environment as a whole.

Organic solvents and industrial organic solvents should be handled carefully on the job and at home. When possible, organizations should consider using low VOC, biodegradable, or environmentally-preferred options.

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