Whatever industry you’re in, workplace safety has to be a priority. That includes workers in the automotive industry who face all kinds of hazards in the workplace.

From oil spills and exposure to hazardous chemicals, to injuries caused handling mechanical tools in the repair shop, accidents can happen at any time.

If your workers get exposed to these chemicals, that can result in serious health issues. So…

How Do Workers Get Exposed To Hazardous Chemicals?

Even if all precautions have been taken, incidents still happen. The two most common forms of exposure are:

  • by breathing in the fumes
  • by bringing the dangerous chemicals into contact with the worker’s skin.

Another exposure risk is when engine parts that contain toxic chemicals start to experience wear and tear, and degrade.

When this occurs the harmful chemicals can be released into the environment. The worst part is this release can remain entirely undetected until it’s too late, and the damage is done.

That’s why ventilation in automotive workplaces is so critical. Without this, harmful gases or floating asbestos can stay in the air while the mechanics are at work, and the concentration of these toxins rise, meaning the workers are affected. The effects of unsafe exposure can manifest immediately or over a period of time.

Inadequate provision of clean uniforms can also increase the danger of being exposed to the harmful chemicals at the workplace. This can be prevented by ensuring your workers have high quality uniforms.

The nature of the symptoms, including skin irritation, chemical burns and internal damage, and the health risks posed to staff depends on the extent of exposure to the harmful chemicals.

Auto mechanics also face the risk of exposure to harmful heavy metals, among the contents in the regular brake fluids, detergents, lubricants, paint, grease, solvents, metal cleaners and the radiator coolants.

These chemicals are known to be potent poisons that can have fatal consequences if they are not carefully handled.

Below are the 5 most hazardous chemicals that are commonly found in an automotive workplace and the risks they pose to the workers’ health after long periods of exposure:

1. Asbestos

Auto mechanics can be exposed to asbestos while they work on the brake drums of cars, as some brake pads contain asbestos.

The asbestos dust is easily inhaled, and can release the dust due to wear and tear, and has been known to be the major cause of mesothelioma, a severe form of cancer.

Detecting the early signs of mesothelioma is complicated because the initial symptoms have similar features with other commonly experienced illnesses. Sadly, the ailment does not manifest and can remain dormant for as long as 30 to 50 years after exposure to the asbestos dust. Many health complaints made by auto mechanics have turned out to be mesothelioma.

The following car parts are known to contain asbestos.

  • Hood liners
  • Brakes
  • Clutches
  • Gasket material, heat seals, valve rings and packing.

How Do the Mechanics Get Exposed?

Further pollution can be caused when vacuum cleaners are used to clean up the work area after repairs have been finished. This can mean that asbestos dust is then blown out from the vacuum cleaner, spreading through the air.

An estimated area of about 75 feet can become contaminated with the asbestos dust when it is released into the air. This is potentially dangerous to both the mechanics and any customers who come into the workshop.

It is also easy for asbestos dust to stick to hands if the mechanic has used grease during work. Grease catches the asbestos dust and holds it in place until it is washed away.

The mechanics’ families and friends can also be at risk as asbestos can linger on their clothes until they get back home.

Common symptoms of asbestos overexposure to look out for include irregular breathing, swollen face and arms, and chest and back pains.

The most effective way to stay protected from the asbestos dust is to use protective suits and respirators while working in a place where the exposure to asbestos is possible.

After work, the protective suit should be properly cleaned and carefully stored away and the workplace cleanup should be done in a way that avoids the dust spreading.

2. Antiknock Agents

Antiknock agents are commonly used by mechanics to improve the fuel efficiency of the engine and the general capacity, as well; in effect, these are harmful compounds that can cause health issues ranging from eye irritations, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness to nausea. Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT) has been reported to be a common cause of liver and kidney problems.

MMT can poison a person if it is:

  • Swallowed
  • Inhaled
  • Absorbed by skin

Also, in some cases MMT can get into person’s eyes. As a prevention, all workers must wear protective equipment when handling MMT. Even then, if the exposure occurs, the first course of action depends on the way a person was exposed to it, and should follow advised first aid procedures.

3. Manganese

It is not just solvents that can cause hazards to your health. Manganese is another potentially dangerous compound. Auto mechanics and welders are at risk of suffering from central nervous system health issues when manganese finds its way into their bloodstream through the lungs when inhaled.

Manganism is the clinical term given to the neurological syndrome caused by a prolonged unprotected exposure to manganese.

A person affected by Manganism will experience the following symptoms:

  • Impaired motor skills and coordination
  • Easily irritable and very uncomfortable
  • Constantly feeling nervous.
  • Psychiatric challenges (hallucinations)

The symptoms of Manganism are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. The long term effects cause impaired neurological functions. The symptoms begin to manifest after about 5 to 20 years of unprotected exposure to manganese.

4. Lead Dust and Fumes

Lead dust and fumes are also able to cause severe health impacts. Auto mechanics are exposed to these poisons when:

  • Working on radiators
  • Welding
  • Mishandling batteries
  • Painting car parts
  • Using lubricants.

There is no known cure that is reported to be effective in reversing the effects of lead poisoning. Its symptoms include causing damage to the neurological system of the affected person.

As many of the symptoms of lead poisoning are common for other illnesses, the detection of lead poisoning is very difficult and people affected are sometimes misdiagnosed.

Workers in the auto-mechanic workshops are in danger of suffering from neuromuscular, gastrointestinal, and neurological health issues.

The most common symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Short-term memory loss and inability to concentrate
  • Depression and impaired coordination
  • Numbness and general body discomfort.

5. Solvents & Diesel Exhaust Fumes

Harmful solvents like benzene, toluene and xylene can cause haematological distortions in the human system.

Almost all forms of solvents are toxic and this poses a great health risk to the workers in the automotive industry who use these solvents daily.

Diesel fumes can also cause severe health challenges to mechanics and others. They can suffer from breathing problems like asthma, allergic reactions, and compromised immune systems.

Brain damage has also been identified as one of the potential effects of these poisons.

When mechanics experience any form of irregularities in their breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention for a proper evaluation.

The effects of breathing in diesel fumes include:

  • Vomiting
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Numbness
  • Discomforting feeling in the chest
  • Noisy breath.

Did You Know That Not All Cleaning Techniques Are Safe?

The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) requires all automotive industry workers to handle all brakes with care, considering that all brakes may contain asbestos.

The following cleaning practices used to clean brakes should be discontinued because they are known to promote the release of the harmful asbestos dust.

  • The use of a vacuum cleaner is not effective enough in containing the released asbestos dust
  • The use of compressed air pressure to clean out the brakes drum.
  • The use of rags and brushes to clean the parts
  • The use of solvent spray cans to clean car parts
  • The removal of dust from car parts using a water hose.

There are better and safer ways to clean machine parts in an automotive workplace. Some of these parts may have come in contact with hazardous chemicals and therefore should be properly maintained and cleaned.

Even chemical residues can still cause harm to workers and therefore, need to be completely removed from any machine, equipment, or surface in the workplace.

This is why machine parts need to be cleaned and washed professionally – not with the employees’ bare hands.

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