Solvents - quick facts
Solvents are defined as substances capable of dissolving other substances to form uniformly dispersed mixtures. Although water is the most common solvent, it is the organic solvents (eg hydrocarbons and ethers) that are generally considered to be hazardous to health.
This topic covers the ways in which solvents can adversely affect health — particularly affecting the skin, lungs and the central nervous system — and the control measures that should be put in place to minimise the risks from solvents. This topic does not cover the Solvent Emissions Directive.
- Solvents are substances capable of dissolving other substances to form uniformly dispersed mixtures. Organic solvents are considered to be hazardous to health.
- As well as having direct adverse effects on workers’ health, excessive uncontrolled exposure to solvents can impair co-ordination as a result of narcosis, leading to poor performance and an increased likelihood of accidents.
- When considering the health hazards associated with solvents, particular attention should be paid to pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with greater susceptibility.
- The risks of harm must be controlled by identifying the solvents present, classifying their hazards, assessing their risks and then either eliminating or substituting those solvents or instigating proper control measures.
- Mixtures that are created using solvents that are classified as hazardous for health or physical effects must be notified to European Poison Centres.
- It is essential that solvents are properly stored and disposed of, to avoid increasing the risk of injury or damage to the environment or property damage.
- The provision of proper instruction and training with health surveillance, where necessary, for those exposed to solvents is particularly important.
Last reviewed 21 July 2021
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