Health & Safety

Work, Health and Environmental Protection When Using Adhesives and Sealants

The handling of raw materials and products in a responsible way throughout their lifecycle, namely from their manufacture via the usage stage right through to recycling and disposal, is nowadays a generally recognized principle.

In many countries, including the US and Western Europe, the development and manufacture of adhesives and sealants has been carried out following the Responsible Care® guidelines promulgated by chemical trade associations worldwide, including the Adhesive and Sealant Council and FEICA. A significant contribution to sustainable development, Responsible Care® is the chemical industry’s global voluntary initiative under which companies, through their national associations, work together to continuously improve their health, safety and environmental performance, and to communicate with stakeholders about their products and processes.In Germany the Responsible Care and Sustainable Development Guidelines of the VCI (Verband der Chemischen Industrie) have governed the development and manufacture of adhesives. This specifically means that health protection and environmental compatibility considerations are taken into account when developing and manufacturing new products. This has consequences for the composition of the adhesives and sealants, product design, recommendations for the application of the adhesive or sealant, and the purpose of use and for the recycling of the product after it has been used.

Health Protection: The aim of health protection is to protect people against hazards and exposure. “Work protection” is used to describe protection in commercial and industrial work environments while “consumer protection” refers to private users.

Work Protection: Industrial and commercial users of adhesives re­quire special protection because they work on daily basis with adhesives, often for many hours a day. In addition to hazards associated with the physical properties of adhesives such as flammability, explosiveness and burns when using hot melts, it is in particular chemical effects such as toxicity, skin irritation, acid burns and allergies which have to be avoided. This is achieved by equipping the work­place with properly designed air replenishment and ventilation systems, providing workers with personal protection equipment (e.g. work clothing, gloves, and safety glasses) and ensuring that hygiene regula­tions are adhered to (e.g. thorough washing of the skin before breaks and at the end of work; refraining from eating, drinking and smoking in the workplace). Safety officers monitor compliance with these safety measures. Personnel who work with adhesives undergo regular training on matters relating to work safety and environmental protec­tion. If special risks are involved, then personnel undergo regular medical examinations.

Consumer Protection: In a professional work environment, poss­ible hazards can be efficiently managed using suitable protective measures, even in situations where there is long-term use, but the situation is differ­ent for private individuals using adhesives at home where no special protective measures are taken. Different requirements are put on these adhesives. This is because private users, unlike industrial users, generally have no knowl­edge of the properties and potential hazards of prod­ucts. That is why only relatively few of all the known types of adhesives are available to private users, and even then only small amounts are made available in the form of tubes, cartridges and tins. On the other hand, private users do not use adhes­ives every day, but rather only occasionally and then only in limited quantities and for limited periods of time. As such, the protective measures described for industrial users are generally neither possible nor necessary. It is nevertheless essential that the safety information given on the small packages is observed, as well as basic principles of work hygiene.

Health Risks: The area of toxicology is concerned with issues relating to the effects of chemical compounds and mixtures of chemicals. Assessing the health risk is a multi-step process. The first step is sound assessment of possible undesirable properties of substances based on recorded data. In the second step, the quantities of material involved and the nature and degree of any possible contact are determined. It is then investigated whether an undesired effect of a material can be caused as a result of this contact. There is no health risk for people if there is no contact with the undesired material. The risk assessment determines whether, and to what extent, there is a health risk to people as a result of the relevant hazard potential of the substance and the nature and degree of exposure.

Although exposure can, for example, be reduced by automated processing (e.g. robots) or by taking suitable protective measures (e.g. gloves, extrac­tion of vapors, safety glasses, etc.), the hazard potential is a fundamental property of a substance or formulation (mixture of substances). The hazard potential generally decreases when the fraction of hazardous material present is lower. Small amounts of a hazardous substance can often be present without the product having to be labeled accordingly. The physico­chemical properties of the substance, the nature and degree of exposure, and the ability of the substance to get into the body determine the relevant amount and the resulting dose that can be taken up by the body. In general, there is no undesired effect below a certain dose. The dose level determines whether, and to what degree, a substance can harm a person’s health. The risk to human health is determined from the hazard potential of the substance and the exposure, or opportunity for contact.