Hazardous parts washing practices are exposing employees in British industry to a number of potential health risks. Tom Sands, Founder and CEO of Safe Solvents, explains how a culture of complacency around the handling of toxic solvents could be detrimental to the health and safety of industry workers.
While companies across the UK continuously strive to be the best they can, workplace risk will always present a challenge, particularly for those that involve chemical hazards. Take the aerospace, automotive or engineering industries for example. They all make use of parts washing machines, and for many years, traditional hydrocarbon-based solvents, heated detergents and caustic degreasers played a valuable – if not overly glamourous – role as industrial cleaning and parts washing agents for thousands of businesses.
These agents can contain highly toxic chemicals capable of producing a flammable, corrosive or oxidising reaction. Many need to be heated up to 60-90oC, and hydrocarbon solvents in particular typically have very high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC), with many in excess of 75%. With over 200,000 businesses estimated to make use of one type of degreaser or another, the scale of toxic chemicals currently in use represents a huge workplace risk for UK industry.
HSE guidance details how accidental exposure to harmful solvents can result in nausea, irritation to the skin, eyes and lungs, and light-headedness. This could come about as a result of breathing in toxic vapours and fumes or through contact with the skin through contaminated work clothes. Heated detergents represent a major risk of scalding, not to mention the damage caused by vapours that occur when the solution is heated.
Such detergents and caustic degreasers often arrive on-site in a highly concentrated solution which is diluted as part of the parts washing solution. In neat form, such detergents and degreasers are highly toxic and highly corrosive, and require secure on-site storage.
Parts washing is often seen as non-core for the end-user, it is typically consigned to the basement or back room of the premises with little regard for employee safety. If using harmful solvents, a lack of ventilation could result in the inhalation of toxic vapours, leading to unconsciousness (a significant danger when working with large or heavy parts), or even death. This disregard for the health and safety of workers is unacceptable and has no place in the modern work environment.
Across industry, there is a growing demand for safer working environments. There are simple changes that employers can make that will benefit the health and safety of workers. These include, keeping cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals out of reach and held in a secure and controlled area. This ensures that only those employees requiring the fluids can access them, while also minimising the risk of spillages. The use of PPE equipment as standard, such as gloves, goggles and face shields, can protect workers from the detrimental health and safety implications of working with unsafe solvents. Employees and management would also benefit from knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms of ill-health from solvent exposure.
In reality though, safety-conscious employers should really be looking to eliminate chemical hazards from the workplace by exploring new techniques. Ambimization for instance, is the 21st century’s answer to archaic parts washing practices, and can help deliver a quantum shift in productivity for businesses. Ambimization uses aqueous degreasing technology to clean parts in a water-based fluid at an ambient temperature, using biodegradable, safe detergents. Gone are the days of hazardous parts washing and industrial cleaning. Ambimization affords businesses an opportunity to end cleaning practices that place employee health at risk.
Ultimately, respiratory illness, irritation of the eyes and skin, and nausea will continue to disrupt the efficiency of employers archaic parts washing practices unless wholesale changes are made. Ambimization is the answer – are you in?
To find out more about Safe Solvents, please visit: www.safesolvents.co.uk. Alternatively, why not get in touch?
Press Enquiries: Andy Williams / Joe Moore WPR