Chemical Hazards – Preventing Solvent Exposure

Millions of workers are exposed to some form of chemical solvents on a daily basis in their place of employment. With that exposure comes the risk of health hazards such as organ damage or failure, nervous system damage, cancer, respiratory issues and dermatitis.

Most solvents that cause such health hazards require specific control and handling measures, which are outlined by OSHA.

Solvent exposure can happen during handling, cleaning, rinsing or even packaging the product. Therefore, strict handling procedures regardless of the activity are required to prevent exposure. Some typical solvents that employees are exposed to include:

  • Acetone
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
  • 1,1,1-trichloroethane
  • N-butyl acetate
  • Terpenes
  • Xylene

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have posted bulletins regarding the respiratory and overall health hazards for exposure to these chemical solvents.

When an exposure occurs in the workplace, it should be immediately evaluated by following OSHA surveillance and sampling methods to determine the exact severity of the exposure and risks associated with it.

Preventing Hazardous Exposure to Chemical Solvents

The first defense in preventing employee exposure to hazardous chemical solvents is prevention. Any company utilizing dangerous chemical solvents should have a written handling and disposal procedure for each chemical solvent.

  • Provide the appropriate ventilation to remove concentrations of the chemical solvent in the air.
  • Provide employees with proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for each type of chemical solvent utilized in the workplace.
  • Provide employees with respiratory protection when necessary to eliminate exposure risk.
  • Create and utilize a detailed processing, handling and storage procedure for all chemical solvents used within the workplace.
  • Store all chemicals properly to reduce exposure and utilize both normal and emergency use policies for those chemical solvents within the workplace.
  • Utilize sound workplace practices and techniques to limit employee exposure. This should include both process and maintenance related activities, especially, since maintenance-related exposures constitute a higher portion of employee exposures than typical processing.

All of these preventive measures can be employed within the workplace regardless of the chemical solvents used.

For more information on solvent exposure and preventing it, we recommend that you visit OSHA’s guidelines for Solvents.

Chemical Hazards safety training products available at our store (available in English & Spanish unless noted otherwise):

Additional resources related chemical hazards and exposure prevention

  • OSHA Technical Manual
    Guidelines describing the various types of clothing that are appropriate for use in various chemical operations, and provides recommendations in their selection and use.

  • OSHA Chemical Reactivity Hazards
    OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), instructions for compliance officers, and other federal standards related to chemical reactivity hazards.

  • CDC Emergency Response Resources
    Web-based guide for identification of chemical exposures during emergency response incidents along with subsequent medical treatment options.

  • CDC NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards
    The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (NPG) is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals/classes for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals.

  • EPA Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention
    Materials and products in our everyday lives, from the homes we live in to the food we eat, contain chemicals that have environmental impacts. The EPA’s goal is to reduce or eliminate lifecycle impacts during their processing, manufacture, use, and disposal. EPA’s primary tools for ensuring the safety of chemicals are the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).


This 1993 video from the OSHA Office of Training and Education discusses chemical hazards in construction including materials safety data sheets, container labeling, employee training, and the requirements of the standard.