To lower Contractor's Insurance costs, you need to lower the risk of exposure to hazards such as benzene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and hematological effects. Exposure can occur occupationally, in the general environment, and in the home as a result of the ubiquitous use of benzene-containing petroleum products, including motor fuels and solvents."
What is Benzene?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes benzene as "a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable." It is formed naturally – in volcanoes and forest fires – and created through human activities. It is found in oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke and evaporates into the air quickly.
Benzene is widely used in the U.S. and is ranked in the top twenty chemicals for production volume. It is used to make glues, paints, synthetic fibers, detergents, pesticides, and more. Most exposure to benzene occurs through inhalation, but it can also be consumed in water or food. Exposure to tobacco smoke (either smoking yourself or from secondhand smoke) accounts for about half of all exposure to benzene in the U.S.
What are the Dangers of Benzene?
"Benzene works by causing cells not to work correctly. For example, it can cause bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia," the CDC explains. "Also, it can damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells."
According to the American Cancer Society, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified benzene as "carcinogenic to humans." The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) has classified benzene as "known to be a human carcinogen," and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified benzene as "a known human carcinogen."
Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer. Research has linked benzene exposure to acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Exposure to benzene in your eyes, skin, or lungs can cause irritation and tissue injury.
What are the Symptoms of Benzene Exposure?
Someone who has inhaled high levels of benzene may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Someone who has eaten foods or drank beverages with high levels of benzene may experience the following symptoms:
- Irritation of the stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
If exposed to airborne benzene, leave the area, remove your clothing, wash with soap and water, and get medical care immediately. If you swallow benzene, don' drink fluids or try to induce vomiting. Also, CPR should not be performed as it may cause you to vomit, which can be sucked into and damage your lungs.
How Can I Minimize Exposure to Benzine?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits airborne exposure. "The maximum time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit is 1 part of benzene vapor per million parts of air (1 ppm) for an 8-hour workday, and the maximum short-term exposure limit (STEL) is five ppm for any 15-minute period."
Here are steps to minimize your exposure to Benzine:
- Don't breathe in gasoline vapors
- Use a well-ventilated area to fuel vehicles and equipment
- Avoid areas with excessive auto exhaust
- Don't smoke or be in places where you can be exposed to secondhand smoke
- Regularly wash your hands
- Use engineering controls to limit exposure to benzene
- Wear a respirator if needed
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