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There are many different risks and hazards that pose a threat to automotive technicians. The effects these risks present can often go unnoticed. Learn how to better protect yourself today to ensure your health is a top priority.
What auto shop chemicals pose a risk?
There are a wide variety of chemicals in the automotive industry that carry the risk of serious side effects if technicians are not properly equipped with protection. Benzene is a common chemical found in many petroleum-based products. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Long-term exposure to the chemical may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death.” These are the effects of only one hazardous chemical out of many that are commonly present. Automotive technicians are working with a wide variety of harmful chemicals from brake cleaner and paints to fuels, oils, and solvents.
Repeated exposure to these chemicals can cause permanent damage. It is crucial for shop owners, technicians, and supply distributors to be aware of the safety concerns associated, as they have the responsibility of protecting workers. Many mechanics are aware of the respiratory risks of some chemicals such as isocyanates. However, they may not be aware of the precautions to take to avoid skin exposure and contamination. Side effects of exposure to isocyanates can include dermatitis, chemical bronchitis, hives, and swelling.
The Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) program surveyed auto paint shops around the country and discovered that while 85% of their employees used disposable gloves while painting, half preferred latex gloves due to the comfort factor. However, latex disposable gloves do not provide proper barrier protection against isocyanates, as the chemical can seep through the material. This can cause direct contact with the employee’s hands, putting them at high risk for contamination.
Some chemicals take ample time to dissipate, which poses equal concern. For example, isocyanates are not water soluble and therefore cannot be easily removed from skin or clothing. This means if a technician’s clothing or hands are covered with the chemical, they could contaminate surfaces in the automotive shop, such as tools. This can also lead to contamination in the home because employees’ clothing and shoes may be contaminated. Thus, it’s important to properly don contaminated clothing.
How to protect auto mechanics
For mechanics and technicians to protect not only themselves but also their co-workers and families from these health concerns, it’s crucial to be equipped with the proper personal protective equipment. This begins at the distributor level, as distributors are aware of these workplace hazards and what kinds of equipment works best to protect against auto chemical exposure. For example, latex disposable gloves are a poor choice for the auto industry because latex is an organic material and therefore can be broken down by solvents and other frequently used automotive chemicals. This is why paint chemicals are capable of contaminating workers even if they are wearing disposable gloves.
The best disposable glove material for the automotive industry is nitrile. Nitrile is a petroleum-based product, so it holds up best against petroleum-based chemicals and solvents. Nitrile gloves can still give mechanics the comfort they are looking for that is found in latex. As the nitrile material is warmed by body heat, it conforms to the hand, delivering a more comfortable fit and feel. A raised diamond texture glove is more breathable than a non-textured glove, which can give workers a bit of added comfort in terms of better air flow to reduce sweat. The texture also gives mechanics extra grip when working with slippery tools or solvents.
Disposable gloves are just the starting point of personal protective equipment that should be used by automotive technicians. Additional protection like respirators and proper shop ventilation are crucial for worker safety. The risks of exposure to harmful chemicals can be mitigated with the proper safety gear and plan.