Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondIn car painting shops in Norway, organic solvent exposure used to be a large problem for the health of the workers. Many young men developed serious intoxications, leading to problems with their memory and concentration at such work places. This was caused by inhalation of organic solvents in the car paint. Now the problem is reduced to a minimum, due to different improvements made in this type of work environment. For instance paint booths have been constructed - where it is possible to paint a whole car!

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 secondsInside the booth the painting process is totally separated from all other activity and all other persons working at the car repair shop, because the room is sealed off closing the doors. The car painter is properly dressed in an overall, using respiratory protective equipment; and wearing gloves. The respiratory protection could be either a Powered Air Purifying Respirator or a filter mask. When using a filter mask it should be stored in a sealed box when not in use, otherwise the filter may not function the next time it is put on for protection. The painting booth is well ventilated. This way the painter is very well protected; both by the ventilation and the respiratory protective equipment he is wearing.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsAlso, this work place has a specific location with good ventilation for storage and mixing of paint and cleaning the equipment. Chronic organic solvent intoxications will not develop among workers at workplaces using these types of preventive measures.

Preventive measures at the work place

Patients with “solvent damage in the nervous system” has for several years been one of the largest groups with approved occupational disease in Norway. The condition became known in Norway at the beginning of the eighties, and preventive measures were initiated to prevent and reduce organic solvents exposure at the work places. This has been successful, and today there are relatively few patients receiving this diagnosis in Norway. One of the occupations with most organic solvent intoxications, were the car painters. Using painting booths and protective equipment has totally removed the problem.

More systematically, preventive measures of relevance can be summarized like this:

  1. Information
    Employers and employees working with organic solvents must be informed about the health risks, and the solvents required at the work must be proper marked

  2. Evaluation of the work place
    The work places should be evaluated, to find the source of exposure and to find the working tasks where exposure takes place.

  3. Substitution
    Also, where possible, the process/work needs to be evaluated; maybe the organic solvents can be replaced with less dangerous products. This has happened in the painting business; today many paints do not contain organic solvents, they are water based instead.

  4. Reduction of exposure levels
    Exposure levels can for instance be reduced by ventilation. Another possibility is to enclose the process involving organic solvents from other activity, by using separate rooms – as for instance using a spraying boot.

  5. Respiratory protection
    Where it is necessary, respiratory protection must be used. The equipment must be available! Filter masks can be used, where the worker breathe through a filter. The filter absorbs the organic solvents, if it is of the correct type; organic vapor cartridge. Be aware that there are different types of filters in the market, and you must chose the correct one. Also, powered, air-purifying respirators can be used. They also have filters, but in these a stream of clean air is delivered to the wearer through a battery-powered motor blower, like shown in the video clip from the car repair shop earlier in this session. When using masks with filters, it is important to change the filter after use. It is impossible to give information on the time a filter will be effective. That will depend on the concentration of the organic solvent in the air. A filter must be changed if the worker can smell the solvent inside the mask. If the mask has been used for a short period, it can be used again if it is stored in an air-tight box. It the mask is not stored properly, the filter will continue to absorb pollutants and may not be working efficient the next time you start using the mask. You can also use air supplied respirators. Such equipment is more effective, and you need not consider filters. However, the workers do not always like these, as they are connected to a hose bringing the air. This reduces the possibility of movement.
    Also, some workers do not like to have a mask which covers the eyes with a screen. The screen may reduce the sight.

There are many websites with information on chemicals and how to protect workers from exposure. One of them is: NIOSH pocket guide to chemical hazards

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This video is from the free online course:

Occupational Health in Developing Countries

University of Bergen