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Isocyanates

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The first step to preventing hazardous exposures is to make sure isocyanate levels are within allowable limits. Employees must also be provided with training and any personal protective equipment needed.

Isocyanates are hazardous chemicals that can enter the body when they are breathed in or contact the skin or eyes. This can cause strong irritation and allergic reactions, and also increase sensitivity to even low levels of these chemicals.

Symptoms of allergic reaction and respiratory "sensitization" include rashes, cough, shortness of breath, asthma, chest tightness and other breathing difficulties.  Some sensitized people have even died from severe asthma related to exposure.

Isocyanates are used to make polyurethane products including foam, insulation, surface coating, furniture, under-carpet padding, packaging material, laminated fabric, adhesive, etc.

Examples of jobs where isocyanates may be present are:

  • Painting vehicles,
  • Spraying on coatings such as truck bed-liners,
  • Foam-blowing, and 
  • Manufacturing polyurethane products.

Employers are responsible to identify and control workers' exposure to isocyanates.

Note: The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has begun a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to address hazards in workplaces with possible isocyanate exposures. L&I has published the Isocyanates National Emphasis Program (NEP) (278 KB PDF) (DOSH Directive 13.50) to implement OSHA's NEP for programmed inspections of workplaces in the state of Washington. A mailer about Washington State's implementation provides more details (339 KB PDF).

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