Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid which becomes a vapor when exposed to air at room temperature. Toluene vapor has a sharp or sweet odor, which is a sign of exposure.
Toluene is typically used in a mixture with other solvents and chemicals such as paint pigments. Products that may contain toluene-such as paint, metal cleaners and adhesives-are used in many industries and can be found in many workplaces. Gasoline and other fuels also contain toluene. Workers using toluene-containing paints, varnishes, shellac, nail polish, glues and adhesives, rust preventives or printing inks may be exposed to toluene.
Workers can be exposed to toluene by breathing it in, getting it on their skin, getting it splashed into their eyes, or swallowing it. These types of exposures may make workers sick immediately or cause effects over time. Toluene exposures have been studied in nail salons and printing establishments, auto repair, and construction activities.
Without proper ventilation and safety precautions, toluene can cause irritated eyes, nose, and throat; dry or cracked skin; headache, dizziness, feeling of being drunk, confusion and anxiety. Symptoms worsen as exposure increases, and long term exposure may lead to tiredness, slow reaction, difficulty sleeping, numbness in the hands or feet, or female reproductive system damage and pregnancy loss. If swallowed, toluene can cause liver and kidney damage. More information about the health hazards of toluene is available here.
OSHA's exposure limits for toluene have been set to prevent effects of long term exposure on the nervous system, however, workers frequently experience symptoms of toluene exposure in activities where exposures are lower than OSHA's present exposure limits. Learn more about exposure limits here.
Toluene is also flammable, and its vapors can be ignited by flames, sparks or other ignition sources.
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How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small businesses may contact OSHA's free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites. To contact free consultation services, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
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