How does biological monitoring help with isocyanate exposure testing?
According to the
Health and Safety Executive (HSE), occupational lung diseases account for around 12,000 of the 13,000 total deaths linked to exposures at work every year, and they’re mainly caused by contact with chemicals or dust. Over the last three years, there were around 17,000 estimated new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work each year.
These statistics prove that employers can and should be doing more to protect their employees from occupational lung diseases and breathing or lung problems, and that includes occupational asthma. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the annual rate of new cases of occupational asthma seen by chest physicians had been increasing, with 174 estimated cases in 2019.
Isocyanates are one of the leading causes of occupational asthma in the UK. It’s vital that you are properly monitoring if your workers are being exposed to them in the workplace because, if you don’t, you risk the health of your employees, the reputation of your business, and a hefty fine from the HSE.
In this article, our experts discuss how biological monitoring can help you make sure you’re keeping your workers safe and are properly managing your isocyanate exposure testing
What are isocyanates?
Isocyanates are highly reactive chemicals used when making certain products, including paints, foams, and glues. Isocyanates are one of the leading causes of occupational asthma in the UK, which means respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and other personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to try and prevent workers being exposed to them.
The main way that workers are exposed to isocyanates is by inhaling fumes, vapours, and particles, as well as by direct skin exposure. You see them used most in the motor vehicle repair (MVR) industry – for example, they can be found in:
Two-pack spray paints – e.g., hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI)
Some glues and hard-wearing plastics – e.g., toluene diisocyanate (TDI)
Making, cutting, grinding, or heating polyurethane foams – e.g., methylene diphenylene diisocyanate (MDI)
Production of polyurethane paints, varnishes, and elastomers – e.g., isophone diisocyanate (IPDI)
Inks and coating products for packaging.
They’re also common in other industries, including:
Flexible foam manufacturing
Commercial ship builders/repairers
Printing and laminating
Is isocyanate exposure testing a legal requirement?
It’s an employer’s legal responsibility under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 to ensure that their employees’ exposure to hazardous substances and chemicals is either prevented or, if it can’t be prevented, correctly controlled. This includes isocyanates.
Biological monitoring is an extremely effective way of testing for isocyanates, by making sure that the PPE and other control measures identified by your risk assessments are doing their job.
What is biological monitoring?
Biological monitoring is the only way to measure the amount of hazardous substances the body is exposed to by all routes – including inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact.
Biological monitoring can be carried out through various methods, but at ELAS OH we carry out our biological testing through urine samples. These samples are then analysed for the hazardous substances themselves, or the metabolites from these substances.
Biological monitoring won’t give you information about an individual’s health, but can highlight if exposure is occurring – which will help you spot if your PPE/RPE is working if your people interact with isocyanates.
Why is biological monitoring important?
Biological monitoring is a way for you to test that your company’s control measures are working if your employees are working with hazardous substances like isocyanates, by seeing if employees have been exposed to chemicals.
It’s the only sure and objective method of determining whether your control measures to prevent employee exposure to isocyanates are effective.
Occupational asthma has overtaken asbestosis as the leading cause of new work-related lung disease, which makes it more important than ever to check that the PPE you’re supplying your people is working effectively – including their RPE.
Workers who don’t handle isocyanates directly but work near others who are using isocyanates can still be exposed, so biological monitoring should be rolled out to those people, too.
When should biological monitoring be used?
You should look at implementing biological monitoring in your workplace:
If chemicals in your workplace can be significantly absorbed through the skin
Where your control measures rely on the use of PPE, such as gloves and masks
If an employee is exposed to hazardous chemicals during their day-to-day work activities
Here’s an example. If you work in the motor vehicle repair industry and these things happen in your body shop, you need biological monitoring:
Painters not wearing an air-fed mask or visor
Painters not wearing the correct air-fed masks or visors
Painters lifting visors to take a closer look at the job
Painters spraying above head height
Non-observance of the correct clearance time in spray booths
Non-protected personnel entering spray areas to speak to painters during spraying
How does the biological monitoring process work?
With ELAS OH, biological monitoring is straightforward and easy.
Once the individuals for testing have been identified, your team will be supplied with biological monitoring kits made up of a urine pot, consent form, and prepaid return envelopes to the lab. Your employee will simply need to provide their sample in line with the clear instructions provided. All your company details are kept anonymous during this process.
Once the samples have been processed, the results will be interpreted and a report will be issued. If the results are above any UK guidance values, a re-test will be recommended.
If there is any exposure indicated in the results, you’ll need to review the results and check that the individuals are following the control measures in place – or redo your risk assessments to see if you need to improve the control measures you have in place.
How should I introduce biological monitoring and isocyanate exposure testing into my workplace?
All employees who come into contact with isocyanates should undergo annual biological monitoring for isocyanates in their urine as part of their regular health screening. This should be in line with your business’ annual health surveillance programme, such as spirometry testing.
Both your air monitoring and
health surveillance results should be kept and used to update COSHH Assessments.
Contact us today!
Contact us for support with your business’ health surveillance and isocyanate exposure testing. We make it easy to keep on top of your legal obligations, so your business stays protected and your employees stay safe. Simply call
or fill in the form on this page. 0161 820 9839