Isocyanate health monitoring

Guidance for employers that can help to eliminate or reduce the health and safety risks associated with isocyanates.

Problem

Spraying isocyanate containing paints or lacquers is an activity where exposure levels may result in adverse health effects.

Inhalation of spray mist containing isocyanates, such as paint or lacquer can cause a permanent health effect of respiratory sensitisation. Exposure to isocyanates can also cause skin sensitisation.

The main hazard associated with isocyanates is respiratory sensitisation. Once a person becomes sensitised, any exposure to isocyanates is likely to result in asthma-like symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • chest tightness
  • breathlessness
  • wheezing

Such attacks have resulted in death.

People with a history of asthma should seek medical advice from a registered medical practitioner before working with isocyanates.

Solution

Arrange health monitoring. Isocyanates are a hazardous substance for which health monitoring is required. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, an employer must ensure that health monitoring is carried out for an employee if the employee is exposed to any hazardous substance, such as isocyanates.

Health monitoring may be required before an employee starts work with the isocyanate containing product so that changes to the worker’s health can be detected. 

Health monitoring procedures used may include:

  • biological monitoring (for example, measurement and evaluation of the presence of substances or their metabolites in blood, urine or exhaled air)
  • medical tests, such as lung function tests
  • medical examinations
  • review of past and present medical and work histories
  • review of medical records and workplace exposure.

Consult your medical practitioner as to when health monitoring should commence for your particular circumstances.

Health monitoring should be performed at 6 weeks from the start of the health monitoring program and then at 6 monthly intervals during continued exposure.

Where monitoring after 12 months shows no adverse health effects, the registered medical practitioner may recommend annual health monitoring.

Hazardous substance health monitoring report form

Use the Hazardous substance health monitoring report form.

Section 2 of the form should be completed by the employer for each employee exposed to any hazardous substance. Sections 3 and 4 are to be completed by the registered medical practitioner after the medical examination.

You must provide a copy of the completed form to the employee, as well as keeping a copy as a record. If you receive recommendations from the medical practitioner, under regulation 169(2)(c)(ii), you must give a copy of the health monitoring report to WorkSafe Victoria.

If the registered medical practitioner is not familiar with the health monitoring requirements for isocyanates, it is recommended they are referred to the Safe Work Australia guide Isocyanates – Hazardous Chemicals requiring health monitoring for further information.