Health and Safety

Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.


Solvents can pose a serious health risk, depending on the type, amount and frequency of exposure. The best approach is to take safety precautions when dealing with any type of solvent.

Two New Zealand workers have died in recent years while using solvents – one applying a UV treatment to windows and another applying adhesive during carpet-laying. Products that may have solvents as an ingredient include adhesives, paints, lacquers, thinners, resins, degreasing agents, fillers, chemicals for preparing a surface and LOSP treated timber.

On this page:

  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • general safety precautions
  • solvent poisoning.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by manufacturers and suppliers detail the hazards and precautions to take for particular chemicals and should be available at workplaces where solvents are used.

The SDS should include:

  • the components that are in the solvent
  • the toxic properties of the solvent
  • safety precautions to follow when using the solvent.

Before using any solvent, you should be familiar with the information on the SDS.

General safety precautions

When handling solvents, the following precautions should be carried out:

  • Store solvents in strong, sealed containers.
  • Clearly identify and labels the containers.
  • Establish procedures and evacuation routes in case of a fire or a solvent spill.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Use a respirator.

Solvent poisoning

The three ways solvents can enter the body are:

  • inhalation into the lungs – acute (immediate) or chronic (long-term)
  • absorption through the skin
  • swallowing.

Acute inhalation poisoning

Organic solvents evaporate at normal temperatures. High levels of solvent vapours can quickly build up in poorly ventilated spaces, especially in warmer temperatures. Effects of acute inhalation poisoning may include:

  • dizziness
  • slow reactions
  • poor co-ordination, balance and reasoning
  • nausea
  • loss of consciousness.

If acute inhalation poisoning is suspected:

  • remove the person from the solvent exposure
  • check the product label and SDS for further instructions.

Once a person is moved to clear, fresh air, the effects of inhalation poisoning will generally rapidly disappear. If problems persist, seek medical advice. Always seek medical help for someone who has lost consciousness from poisoning, even if they seem to recover.

Solvent on skin/eyes

If a solvent is spilt on the skin:

  • dilute the solvent immediately with a lot of water
  • remove contaminated clothing – use appropriate gloves if necessary
  • wash the contaminated skin thoroughly with soap and water.

If solvent has splashed into a person’s eye:

  • wash with clean, running water for a minimum of 15 minutes
  • do not use eye drops or any liquid other than clean water or saline solution
  • seek medical help.

Swallowed solvent

If solvent has been swallowed and the person is conscious:

  • give them a lot of water to drink
  • do not cause the person to vomit
  • take them to a doctor for a checkup.

If solvent has been swallowed and the person is unconscious:

  • clear the mouth of mucous and vomit and remove false teeth if necessary
  • place the person in the recovery position
  • ensure the airways are open
  • administer CPR if necessary
  • Dial 111 and ask for an ambulance.

Notifiable incidents

If someone has lost consciousness after breathing in or swallowing solvent on a work site, this must be reported to WorkSafe. You can report an incident by phone (0800 030 040) or notifying WorkSafe online.


Updated: 25 January 2022