What to know about Benzene Safety and Exposure
The recent chemical fire in Deer Park, Texas, raised concerns about safety and risks associated with benzene.
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a toxic, flammable, colorless chemical that has a sweet, aromatic odor and is not soluble in water. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.
All of us experience trace amounts of benzene exposure through daily use of consumer products. Detergents, pesticides and gasoline all contain benzene. However, employees who work in petroleum refining sites and pipeline operations, for example, have a higher risk of exposure to benzene. Benzene awareness is extremely important due to its prevalence and harmful health effects.
Health Effects of Benzene Exposure
Benzene often enters the body through inhalation. Both short-term and long-term exposure to benzene can cause serious health issues. Potential short-term effects may include breathlessness, irritability, irritation of eyes, nose and skin, dizziness, or nausea. Long-term effects of benzene exposure can include blood disorders like anemia and leukemia. If you experience any unplanned exposure to benzene, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
Best Practices for Working With or Near Benzene
- Eliminate any heat or ignition sources like open flames or sparks
- Prohibit smoking in areas where benzene is used or stored
- Ensure fire extinguishers are readily available
- Store benzene in a cool, well ventilated location and keep containers tightly closed when not in use
- Wear the necessary personal protective equipment to protect against exposure. This may include boots, gloves, aprons, eye and face protection, and/or respiratory protection.
- If a benzene release occurs, evacuate immediately, notify response personnel and report to health, safety and environmental authorities as applicable.
The Benefits of a Benzene Awareness Program
For companies with potential occupational exposure to benzene, documented benzene awareness programs provide great value to both Hiring Clients and contractors. ISN has both benzene and benzene awareness protocols that align with OSHA standards available to customers where applicable.
ISN’s RAVS Plus Assessment is designed to provide additional evidence for Hiring Clients that contractors’ written programs are implemented throughout their work practices and that their employees have received training. Chemical awareness and employees’ ability to correctly identify related characteristics and health effects of the chemical are common gaps identified during these assessments.