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Isocyanates in motor vehicle repair: Reducing exposure through training

Motor Vehicle Repair

The Challenge

HSE has identified that asthma is a major cause of ill-health in the motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry. Two-pack paints are used extensively in primers and lacquers. Isocyanates are also found in a number of construction products including polyurethane paints, coatings, foams, glues and flooring. They have a number of health effects, such as:

  • irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • dermatitis
  • occupational asthma - this is a significant risk for workers spraying products containing isocyanates

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations employers must protect against the risks from isocyanates through Assessment, Control and Review.

The Solution

To address the lack of awareness of the potential risks among employers and sprayers, we worked with HSE inspectors and with trade associations to develop simple and clear guidance. This was delivered through a series of multi-media presentations at Safety and Health Awareness Days (SHADs), 28 of which were held across the country in a sustained campaign between 2004 and 2007.

At these events, a range of experts provided information at these events about the hazards and risks associated with spraying isocyanates and how to control exposure so as to prevent ill-health:

  • a video of an interview with an asthma sufferer brought home the life-changing consequences of the condition.
  • scale models developed by our ventilation specialists used a smoke generator to show how ventilation systems in spray enclosures work and how long it takes for paint mist to clear after spraying.
  • industry speakers gave presentations on paints and equipment
  • an HSE Inspector gave a clear message about the legal requirements.

Scientists from our biological monitoring team also distributed sampling kits, enabling sprayers to collect a urine sample after spraying for analysis of isocyanate metabolites. This provided a simple check on whether the exposure controls were working properly.

The Outcome

The SHAD campaign was highly successful. Post-event questionnaires showed improved awareness of the issues, with well over 90% of attendees pledging to make improvements. Quantitative data from urine samples showed that exposure levels were lower in workers who had attended the SHAD events than those who had not. Where urine levels of isocyanate metabolites were above the Biological Monitoring Guidance Value, the individual was advised to look again at control measures, make improvements and repeat the test. These follow-up samples revealed lower levels of metabolites and a reduction in exposure.

A further significant demonstration of the effectiveness of the campaign came from subsequent HSE statistics: in 2004 to 2006, the incidence of occupational asthma in vehicle spray painters, along with associated costs, was approximately half that for the period 2001 to 2003.

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