HEALTH & SAFETY
EURO-MOULDERS continuously researches and evaluates flexible polyurethane foams from the health and safety aspects for consumers and workers.
One of the main potential risks for workers in a polyurethane foaming plant results from the risk of exposure to the diisocyanates used to produce foam, which are known to be sensitisers and may in extreme cases cause occupational asthma. This risk is well known, with ISOPA (European Polyols and Aromatic Diisocyanates Producers Association) having published safety information sheets, risk assessments and exposure scenarios for diisocyanates used in the polyurethane foam production.
Diisocyanates – when not handled properly – can cause health issues, such as skin or eye irritation and occupational asthma. For that reason, under the European Union regulation for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) a specific Restriction was adopted that states that all workers working with the substance (e.g. foam line operators, laboratory staff or demould operators) have to be trained on their safe use by 24 August 2023.
Foam producers are encouraged to train their staff accordingly and should regularly carry out tank farm assessments with their suppliers of polyols or diisocyanates, to ensure that they have all procedures in place to properly minimise the risk of exposure to diisocyanates.
Polyurethane foam is an entirely safe product in the many diverse applications it is used for.
One of the main building blocks of polyurethane – the diisocyanates – are completely consumed during the chemical reaction that creates polyurethane. Once cured, they cannot be released into the air from polyurethane foam.
However, risk assessments have shown that other substances can be released from foam, as volatile organic compounds. Over the years, the polyurethane industry has successfully invested in reduction of substance emanations from foam. This growing understanding of VOC emanations from foam has resulted in optimizations of formulations and production technologies resulting in lower total VOC emissions.
These developments led to reduction in emanations, down to the limits of detection, in the part per million (ppm) range.