Benzene

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Dangers of Benzene Safety Talk

Benzene is 1 of 119 agents listed as “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency of Research on Cancer also known as IARC. A carcinogen is defined as any substance or agent that tends to produce a cancer. It is a widely used chemical in industrial processes as well as in consumer goods. Because of its widespread use, many individuals can face exposure to this substance both on and off the job.

What is Benzene and Where is it Found?

On OSHA’s Substance Data Sheet for benzene it states that: Benzene is a clear, colorless liquid with a pleasant, sweet odor. The odor of benzene does not provide adequate warning of its hazard. Mentioned above, the substance is found in many industrial processes. It is also in crude oil and a major part in gasoline. Most of the benzene in the environment comes from our use of petroleum products. In the home it is found in glues, adhesives, cleaning products, paint strippers, and tobacco smoke.

gasoline and benzeneThe Effects of Overexposure to Benzene
(source: OSHA’s Substance Data Sheet)

Short-term (acute) overexposure: If you are overexposed to high concentrations of benzene, well above the levels where its odor is first recognizable, you may feel breathless, irritable, euphoric, or giddy; you may experience irritation in eyes, nose, and respiratory tract. You may develop a headache, feel dizzy, nauseated, or intoxicated. Severe exposures may lead to convulsions and loss of consciousness.

Long-term (chronic) exposure. Repeated or prolonged exposure to benzene, even at relatively low concentrations, may result in various blood disorders, ranging from anemia to leukemia, an irreversible, fatal disease. Many blood disorders associated with benzene exposure may occur without symptoms.

Best Practices to Reduce Exposure to Benzene

OSHA has set the exposure limit to 1ppm for an 8 hour work day and 5ppm exposure limit for a 15 minute frame. For most people the exposure to benzene is by gasoline and its vapors, however some individuals may be exposed to it elsewhere. Some best practices to reduce your chances of being overexposed to benzene are:

  • Do not breathe in the vapors of gasoline.
  • Fuel in a well ventilated area.
  • Avoid areas with excessive automobile exhaust as much as possible.
  • Avoid any water that could possibly be contaminated with benzene.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes and do not be in areas where you could be exposed to second hand smoke.
  • Practice good hygiene and protect your skin. Washing your hands prior to eating can reduce the chance of exposure through ingestion and limiting skin exposure can reduce absorption of benzene through the skin.
  • At work use engineering controls to reduce or eliminate the exposure to benzene. If exposure is still over the limit, respirators must be worn that are sufficient enough to protect individuals of overexposure.

Summary

Off the job it is much easier to reduce your exposure, however doing so at work could be more difficult if you do not understand the dangers. Talk with a supervisor or safety representative to find out the sources of benzene on the job as well as the safeguards implemented to protect against overexposure. Some of the biggest hazards at work are the ones you are not aware of. Discussion point: Discuss the sources of benzene in the workplace and the associated safeguards.

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