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AMONG SECURITY AND POLICE Officers, the behavior of the phencyclidine (PCP) abuser is legend. Stories abound of uncontrolled aggressive behavior to the point of requiring several officers to subdue a suspect. Similarly, uncontrolled personality changes can occur when workers are exposed to chemical substances. Security must be prepared with preventive policies and crisis management techniques when incidents occur.

Usually warning signs are exhibited that alert security to potential problems. For example, an otherwise peaceful worker may begin to exhibit aggressive behavior. He or she is not the stereo-typical glue sniffer, but rather a worker who has had a long-term or large-dose exposure to one of the chemicals commonly known as solvents.

Solvents are chemicals that have the ability to dissolve other materials, mostly nonwater-soluble. They are used in glues, cleaning agents, paints, and dyes. Solvents are also used extensively in manufacturing plastics, textiles, and agricultural products. In the solvent family, benzene is one of two major parent chemical substances found in fuels, cleaning solutions, and other chemical intermediaries. The other parent substance, methyl chloride, is found in degreasers, dry-cleaning agents, paint removers, and some aerosol propellants.

It is estimated that more than 9 million workers are being exposed to these chemicals in companies throughout the United States.(1) Solvents are most commonly absorbed into the body by inhaling, and they enter the blood through the lungs. Absorption is also possible through the skin and the digestive system.

Security professionals must be aware of the effects of solvents, since security will likely be the first to encounter workers with solvent exposure symptoms. These encounters will require that security personnel quickly determine the type of action necessary. The appropriate approach might include medical attention or physical restraint. To respond properly, security personnel must understand the threat solvents pose.

Documented effects of solvent exposure include inexplicable rages, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and severe mood swings.(2) Other effects include changes in cognitive functions, such as reduced memory, reduced attention span, limited concentration, and confusion when faced with a complicated task. Any of these cognitive changes can lead to workplace injury. Solvent exposure can also cause psychological problems, such as decreased libido, irritability, anxiety, and depression.(3)

Solvents in the workplace can produce health hazards that cause workers to exhibit some of the same behaviors as those associated with drug abuse. The feelings of physical strength and release of inhibitions brought on by the abuse of narcotics, hallucinogens, and stimulants are also possible effects of overexposure to solvents.

There is one big difference between a drug abuser and a worker exposed to solvents: The worker who has been overexposed to solvents does not know he or she is being affected. This places worker exposure to solvents in the category of a workplace hazard. Since solvents are a possible workplace hazard, employer testing for them should not fall under the current restrictions on drug abuse testing. Employees may voluntarily submit to testing for solvents.

The effects of solvents may be enhanced by exposure to alcoholic beverages or other drugs away from the workplace.(4) The major problem, however, is not multiple drug use but rather the lack of recognition of the solvent exposure problem by officials at work.

Security managers should learn to recognize the early symptoms, such as coughing, dermatitis, and complaints of irritation. In addition, they should be aware of the conditions that might lead to overexposure. A company should keep a record of the solvents it uses, along with symptoms and methods of aid for exposure victims. Guidelines should be developed that protect both the worker and the security officer.

In the event of a serious spill or worker contamination, a protocol should be established that provides for the proper response of personnel. To have the most effective program, senior management must be committed to worker safety and security. Management policy should be expressed in written guidelines agreed to by top management and security supervisors. Job descriptions should include safety considerations in dealing with solvents, and performance evaluations should reflect these considerations.

Line supervisors must be accountable for solvent use in their area. A written report should be completed for each exposure incident. Security personnel should be represented in any decision involving the use and selection of solvents. Regular inspections for possible solvent hazards should be a part of the security program.

One of the more effective means of controlling solvent exposure is to replace solvents with less hazardous substances. Using a less toxic or less volatile substance is one sure way to reduce the problem. A less hazardous substance will usually work just as well. for instance, a company using a degreaser on the floor could substitute a dry nontoxic compound with a calcium base.

The major way solvents are taken into the human body is through the air. Good ventilation should be used in every process that involves these chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) provides standards for all control measures involving solvents in breathing zones. Besides ventilation, the breathing area can be protected by the use of a respirator. However, respirators should only be used as back-up protection, because even the best of them may leak. In addition, respirators require continuous testing and maintenance.

Solvents can also be absorbed through the skin. Gloves, face shields, and aprons provide a measure of protection. The best method, though, is to avoid contact by using mechanical devices to apply the solvents. Good personal hygiene is also important. Workers should understand the importance of washing immediately after exposure.
Figure 1
Common Solvents and Symptoms
Toluene Fatigue, alcohol intolerance, dizziness,
 headaches, emotional incontinence.
Xylene Confusion, depression, fatigue, alcohol
Styrene Loss of verbal learning and psychomotor
 performance, cognitive impairment,
Hexane Sensory-motor nerve disorder.
Methyl Butyl Ketone Sensory-motor nerve disorder in limbs,
 distal numbness.
Methyl Ethyl Ketone Poly-sensory nerve disorder.
Methyl Chloride Headaches, nausea, blurred vision,
 agitation, aggresiveness.
Trichlorethylene Dizziness, fatigue, alcohol intolerance,

A further consideration is the expense and availability of chemical testing for solvent exposure levels in humans. An easy-to-use, non-chemical test can be applied in the field by security officers and will reliably indicate the need for the more intrusive and expensive chemical tests.

A review of the symptoms of solvent exposure in relation to some other frequently abused drugs is helpful before discussing the solvent exposure test. Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, along with PCP and inhalants (solvents), all cause people to exhibit similar symptoms. Keeping this similarity in mind will aid in understanding the connection between the test being described and its application in the workplace.

Late in the 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed a standardized battery of field sobriety tests to aid police officers in establishing probable cause for a driving-while-intoxicated arrest.(5) The capstone of this battery of tests is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test. The HGN Test is administered by a person trained to observe and record an involuntary jerking of the eyes. The motion occurs as the eyes follow a stimulus and gaze to the side.

A person experiencing nystagmus does not know it is happening and is powerless to control the jerking. Under the influence of alcohol and some other drugs, including solvents, the jerking becomes more distinct and more noticeable. The greater the exposure to the drug or chemical, the sooner the jerking begins as the eyes move to the side.

When the test is applied by an experienced person, blood alcohol content can be reliably predicted in terms of probable cause for arrest on a charge of driving under the influence. The test can also provide probable cause for further chemical tests in a work setting. Although the HGN Test was designed to detect alcohol abuse, it also detects central nervous system depressants, PCP, and inhalants. When administered properly, it identifies a high percentage of substance abusers. A security officer can be taught to administer the test with a few hours of training.

A security officer should first see evidence of solvent exposure before considering an HGN Test. The test should only be used to determine if further chemical testing is necessary.

Security managers are often required to be well versed on various issues and able to handle diverse situations. They must act on concerns that may only recently have become part of their responsibility. Hazardous chemical security is one of these issues.

Every day workers and security personnel are exposed to solvents without realizing their possible effects on personality, and physiology. Solvents are found in every size company. Security personnel must be prepared for a wide variety of solvent exposures. To deal with these situations, a comprehensive program must be in place that includes communication, hazard reduction, detection, and treatment.

1 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Organic Solvent Neurotoxicity (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1987).

2 F.J. Braceland, "Mental Symptoms Following Carbon Disulfide Absorption and Intoxication," Annals of Internal Medicine Vol. 16 (1942): 246.

3 D. E. Hartman, Neuropsychological Toxicity (New York: Pergamon Press, 1988).

4 Dennis Shusterman, et al., "Methylene Chloride Intoxication in a Furniture Refinisher," Journal of Occupational Medicine Vol. 32, No. 5 (May 1990).

5 M. Burnes and H. Moskowitz, "Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrests," U.S. Department of Transportation Report DOT-HS 802-424, NTIS, (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1977).

John J. Prince, CPP, PhD, is an associate professor of security and interim chair for the Department of Safety, Science, and Technology at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri.
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Author:Prince, John J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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