Isocyanates in the car industry

A Southampton car retailer has been found guilty and fined for breaching Regulation 7 (1) of The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002. A worker at the site who had been a car bodywork sprayer developed occupational asthma.

The employee had been spraying paints that contained isocyanates and the company did not have adequate control measures in place. Isocyanates are found in paints and almost all motor vehicle repair body shops use 2-pack or “2K” isocyanate containing paints.

Motor vehicle paint sprayers have a 90 times higher risk of getting asthma compared with the UK working population. It’s not just body sprayers that can be affected, other workers within close proximity can also develop symptoms and should be included in your risk assessments. Not only can the spray mist make existing asthma worse but once people are affected the lowest levels can then trigger problems.   

So what do you need to do as an employer?

The COSHH regulations have been around for a long time now so you should have your risk assessments completed and a health surveillance programme in place already. If you haven’t then there is plenty of guidance and help out there to get you started. The HSE website is full of information on how to get started. The main thing is to get started and take action.

Once you have completed your risk assessments and have appropriate control measures in place that’s when you need to start your health surveillance to ensure the control measures are working. Otherwise how do you know they are working? Health surveillance for isocyanates includes a respiratory and skin check, and also a lung function test and urine test which is sent off to a laboratory for testing. You also need to make sure that any new staff have a baseline check to ensure adequate control measures are in place if they have any existing health problems. This needs to be carried out by suitably qualified Occupational Health professionals.

In the recent legal case above the HSE inspector said that “This serious health condition could so easily have been avoided by simply implementing correct control measures and appropriate working practices”.

The HSE website is a good place start for information

Find out more about our Occupational Health and Health Surveillance services.