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Glossary: Benzene

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Occupational diseases caused by Benzene
Occupational diseases caused by Benzene
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Benzene naturally occurs in crude oils and natural gas and is a highly flammable liquid. If can also be found in crude oil vapour and although small amounts of it can be found in petrol (less than 1%) and in vehicle exhausts, most people can just detect it from its smell.

Benzene is primarily used as a solvent and although safer chemicals have replaced it in recent years, it can still be found in the manufacturing of some chemicals such as ethyl benzene (also known as styrene) and cyclohexane. It can also be found in foundries during the casting process where it is used as a catalyst.

It is important that workers wear sufficient PPE (personal protective equipment) as Benzene can be inhaled in its vapour form or absorbed through the skin.

Benezene can be found:

  • In oil refineries, petrochemical plants and where petrol is stored
  • On offshore installations
  • Coke works
  • Foundries

What are the risks of working with Benzene?

Short term effects of high levels of Benzene include: headaches, dizziness, nausea and tiredness.  Long term, low level exposure could result in leukemia, a progressive and fast growing cancer of the blood cells. Long term exposure is also linked to serious blood disorders including anaemia.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) require employers to carry out risk assessments and provide adequate protection for their employees.  According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the UK has the lowest number of reported severe, long term exposures thanks in part to COSHH.

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