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VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

What Are They and How Can You Protect Your Workforce From Exposure?

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at ordinary room temperature. Their high vapour pressure results from a low boiling point, which causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and enter the surrounding air. VOCs are numerous, varied, and found everywhere in both human-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds. VOCs most commonly come in the form of Acetone, Formaldehyde, Benzene and Acetic Acid which form the ingredients of many household and industrial products. Because they evaporate at room temperature, concentrations are usually much higher in an indoor environment. Having the correct gas detecting PID sensor is essential to limit and prevent the health effects that occupational exposure can result in.


Where Are They Found?

Typically, VOCs are solvents that are used primarily for cleaning or degreasing or as a dissolving agent in paint or adhesives. But they are also found in petrol, diesel, heating oil, kerosene and jet fuel and are particularly prevalent in the oil refining and petrochemical industry. Workers can be exposed to VOCs in environments where they are manufactured, stored, used or disposed of. Exposure of these compounds usually occurs:

  • From the vapours they produce when handling the solvents in their liquid phase
  • When the vapours are formed as a fugitive escape
  • When vapours are produced by a drying film
  • When vapours still exist in confined spaces


What Does COSHH Say About Exposure?

Regulation 7 of COSHH lays down the requirements for using maximum exposure limits (MELs) and occupational exposure standards (OESs) for achieving adequate control of worker exposure and these are published in EH40 guidance.


What Are The Health Implications Of Working With VOCs?

For the majority of VOCs, the health implications are chronic rather than acutely toxic. Exposure to VOCs may not show immediate health implications but can manifest many years later in the form of irritation of the nervous system, cancer or long-term neurological impairment. Some VOCs such as Benzene can have an immediate effect on health with an exposure of 50ppm, inhalation of benzene can result in headaches, lethargy, and a general feeling of weakness. Beyond 20,000ppm, depression of the central nervous system, cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory failure and death is an imminent risk.


How Can You Monitor Exposure?

Quite simply, using the correct gas detection equipment. OELs are designed to protect workers from the effects of exposure to hazardous substances and these are listed in the recently update EH40 guidance, a copy of which you can view here.  EH40 is the guidance that comes under COSHH regulations which all employers have to comply with. It is essential that you are complying with this guidance and ensuring that your workers are adequately protected and that you know what the are being exposed to on a day to day basis. Understanding VOCs and how they operate as a hazard to health is a specialist area. Our suggestion is to make use of our free Gap Analysis survey. Our team can tell you what hazards exist, where they exist, how they will affect your workforce and how you can use gas detection equipment to ensure that their health and safety is being adequately covered and that they are not being unnecessarily exposed to toxins that could have devasting consequences for their future health.