Be Concerned about Benzene-August 2011

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

August 2011

IN THIS ISSUE: Be Concerned about Benzene

Benzene is a colorless, highly flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It is also a basic component of petroleum, and that makes exposure to it a common risk factor in many industries.  Recently, public concern about high concentrations of benzene near gas drilling sites has put this chemical in the headlines, especially in areas where oil or gas drilling had not previously taken place. 

“Employers should be concerned about workers’ exposure to benzene,” explains Gary R. Ticker, CIH, CSP, of Occusafe, Inc. “While it’s unclear how issues of the public’s exposures to benzene will be resolved, occupational exposure will always be significant.” 

OSHA has long recognized the seriousness of Benzene exposure, and has created a specific standard under OSHA 1910.1028.  That outlines requirements for air sampling, medical monitoring, training, and work practices.  Short-term exposure may cause irritation to the eyes, skin, nose, and respiratory system, dizziness, headache, and nausea. At very high levels, it can cause unconsciousness and death.  Long-term exposure can cause anorexia, weakness and exhaustion, dermatitis, bone marrow depression, and it is considered a potential occupational carcinogen. 

Both OSHA and ACGIH have full shift exposure limits for Benzene.  Employees working in these industries may have higher exposure to benzene: 

  • Petrochemical production
  • Petroleum refining
  • Coke and coal chemical manufacturing

Workers in other industries may also be affected by exposure to benzene because of its many industrial uses:

  • Manufacture of plastics, rubber, detergents, pesticides
  • Production of other chemicals
  • Component of solvents and paints

It’s important to note that benzene is also a component of tobacco smoke, and this may be an additional source of employee exposure.

For industries that produce Benzene or use it as a significant part of the manufacturing process, controls must be integral to the process. Other companies should conduct a thorough review petroleum based materials by checking chemical inventories, MSDS’s, and other available sources. Where possible exposures are found, institute procedures to limit evaporation and prevent splashes and spills.  Use engineering controls such as use of hoods, canopies, and proper ventilation to control the hazard, as well as personal protective equipment to supplement engineering controls. 

Recognize, evaluate, and control the use of Benzene. It is a significant workplace concern.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate andcontrol hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc.   Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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