Solvents can have serious adverse health effects. Just how serious depends on the type, amount and frequency of exposure to the solvent, so all solvents should be considered hazardous. Common sources of solvents are LOSP treated timber, thinners and coatings.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by manufacturers and suppliers detail the hazards and precautions to take for particular chemicals and should be available at workplaces where solvents are used.

The SDS should include:

  • the components that are in the solvent
  • the toxic properties of the solvent
  • safety precautions to follow when using the solvent.

Before using any solvent, you should be familiar with the information on the SDS.

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General safety precautions

When handling solvents, the following precautions should be carried out:

  • Store solvents in strong, sealed containers.
  • Clearly identify and labels the containers.
  • Establish procedures and evacuation routes in case of a fire or a solvent spill.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Use a respirator.

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Solvent poisoning

The three ways solvents can enter the body are:

  • inhalation into the lungs – acute (immediate) or chronic (long-term)
  • absorption through the skin
  • swallowing.

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Acute inhalation poisoning

Effects of acute inhalation poisoning may include:

  • dizziness
  • slow reactions
  • poor co-ordination, balance and reasoning
  • nausea
  • loss of consciousness.

If acute inhalation poisoning is suspected:

  • remove the person from the solvent exposure
  • check the product label and SDS for further instructions.

Once a person is moved to clear, fresh air, the effects of inhalation poisoning will generally rapidly disappear. Seek medical attention if symptoms are severe.

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Solvent on skin/eyes

If a solvent is spilt on the skin:

  • dilute the solvent immediately with a lot of water
  • remove contaminated clothing – use appropriate gloves if necessary
  • wash the contaminated skin thoroughly with soap and water.

If solvent has splashed into a person's eye:

  • wash with clean, running water for a minimum of 15 minutes
  • seek medical help.

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Swallowed solvent

If solvent has been swallowed and the person is conscious:

  • give them a lot of water to drink
  • do not cause the person to vomit.

If solvent has been swallowed and the person is unconscious:

  • clear the mouth of mucous and vomit and remove false teeth if necessary
  • place the person in the recovery position
  • ensure the airways are open
  • administer CPR if necessary
  • dial 111 and ask for an ambulance.

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