1. What is solvent exposure?

Solvent is the term given to a group of liquid chemicals that share similarities. Solvents, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, are used to dilute or dissolve another substance. Water is the most obvious solvent, as many other substances can be dissolved in it, but strong chemicals are also used as solvents for those substances that cannot be dissolved in water alone.

Solvents are used widely in many industries including, but not limited to: engineering, footwear manufacture, construction, textiles, chemicals, printing, woodworking, rubber and dry cleaning. They are frequently used for degreasing, adhesion and as paint thinners or lubricants. Solvents evaporate into the air and their vapour can be breathed in. Solvents can also be absorbed through your skin, especially with lengthy skin contact, and can also get into your body if you swallow it.

2. How are workers exposed to solvents?

Strict control of exposure to solvents in the workplace is required. Adverse health effects are rare but accidents can and do happen. In some cases, employees are asked to deal with dangerous solvents at work, without being issued with the necessary personal protective equipment, clothing or any training about how to handle the solvents. If not handled correctly, solvents can be dangerous substances and can cause irritation of the eyes, lungs and skin. They can also cause headaches, nausea and dizziness. In extreme cases, exposure to solvents can result in death.

3. What effect could solvent exposure have on my health?

The effect of solvent exposure depends on the chemical involved but, generally speaking, overexposure to solvents affects the central nervous system - causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness, drowsiness, and other effects similar to those of drunkenness. The symptoms of short-term solvent over-exposure usually clear up within hours of exposure stopping but, as with drinking alcohol, these symptoms can increase your chances of having an accident in the interim. In extreme cases, unconsciousness and death can result from exposure to extremely high concentrations of solvent vapours. Generally, the greater the exposure, the more severe the symptoms.

Long-term exposure to solvents can also lead to kidney and liver damage, damage to the brain and nervous system, and it can also negatively affect fertility. Long-term effects of solvent exposure on the nervous system may include problems with concentration, sleep disorders and personality disorders. Some solvents (such as chloroform and benzene) are carcinogenic, too.

Should liquid solvents make contact with the skin, they may cause irritation and a rash, and liquid solvent splashes can damage the eyes. Personal protective equipment and clothing, such as goggles, should be provided.

Should you feel unwell after exposure to solvents at work, you could be entitled to start a solvent exposure compensation claim. For further advice on whether you have a valid case, contact Thompsons Solicitors’ industrial disease lawyers on 0800 0 224 224 or complete our online Start a Claim form

4. How will my solvent exposure be diagnosed?

Tests can confirm the level of solvent exposure, but they generally need to be carried out soon after the exposure itself. They can only provide useful information about that day's exposure. If severe solvent exposure has occurred, blood and urine analyses, as well as other tests, may show whether the brain, heart, or kidneys have been injured. If you believe that your health is being affected through your work with solvents, you should see your doctor immediately and contact an occupation health or trade union representative in your workplace. 

5. How will my solvent-related illness be treated?

It is important to stop exposure to solvents immediately. The effects can be treated: oxygen can be given to those who have inhaled solvent vapour or medicine can be used to treat someone whose skin has been exposed to solvents. Most people will recover, but a stay in hospital may be required if the symptoms are serious

6. How can solvent exposure be prevented?

Employers should introduce measures to prevent exposure to solvents or, if this is not possible, ensure that solvent exposure is controlled. They should provide appropriate ventilation and personal protective equipment, such as gloves, respiratory equipment, goggles and an apron. Special precautions are required if the work is in a confined space. Employers should also monitor workers’ exposure and provide appropriate training on using the solvent.

There are detailed regulations in place, which are designed to protect all workers from exposure to chemicals and other substances in the workplace. These are called “The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations”, or COSHH for short. If a person believes they have been harmed by exposure to solvents at work, or in the environment, then they may be entitled to make a personal injury compensation claim.

7. What should I do if I think I have been exposed to solvents? 

If you have any symptoms of solvent exposure, seek professional medical advice immediately. If you believe your health is being adversely affected by working with solvents, or if you are concerned that adequate precautions are not being taken, speak to your supervisor, safety representative or union representative, as appropriate.

If you or someone you know has been injured or contracted an illness or disease as a direct result of coming into contact with a dangerous solvent, you may wish to contact an industrial disease lawyer for advice. In the meantime, however, it is important that you retain any evidence you may have which supports your exposure, and ensure that when you visit your GP or hospital for treatment you mention the suspected cause of your injury to them.

Also remember to retain evidence of any injury-related expenses, such as receipts for prescriptions or medication and evidence of travelling expenses.

8. Am I eligible to make a solvent exposure claim for compensation?

Providing it can be proven that your injury was caused by your exposure to the hazardous solvent, and that the person or company who allowed you to come into contact with the solvent was negligent, then your claim for industrial disease compensation should be valid. If you’re unsure, contact Thompsons Solicitors’ friendly personal injury lawyers for free advice. 

9. How long do I have to make a solvent exposure compensation claim?

There are strict time limits in place to make any personal injury compensation claim – usually three years from the date of the injury or your illness developing. For further information, contact Thompsons Solicitors on 0800 0 224 224.

10. How do I start a solvent exposure compensation claim?

Thompsons Solicitors specialises in all types of personal injury claims, including industrial disease claims, serious injury claims, asbestos disease claims, medical negligence claims, accident at work claims and road traffic accident claims. Our personal injury solicitors can advise you as to whether you have a valid claim for solvent exposure compensation and are happy to talk you through the process of making a claim, answering any questions or queries you may have along the way. You can call us now on 0800 0 224 224, or complete one of our online personal injury compensation claim forms.