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and YOU
This leaflet contains notes on good practice which are not
compulsory but which you may find helpful in considering
what you need to do.
Published by the Health and Safety Executive
Benzene can cause serious health problems. This leaflet
tells you about the health hazards of benzene and what
to do if you are exposed to it at work.
Benzene is a highly flammable liquid which occurs
naturally in crude oil, natural gas and in some groundwaters.
It is also manufactured from crude oil and is
present in crude oil vapours. The main use of benzene
is as starting material for the manufacture of chemicals
such as cyclohexane, ethyl benzene, phenol and maleic
anhydride. It was formerly used as a solvent, but in
most cases safer substances have now replaced this use.
In the United Kingdom petrol contains below 1%
benzene. Small amounts of it are produced when some
organic substances burn incompletely, for example, it is
found in cigarette smoke and vehicle exhausts. It is
produced as a by-product during the manufacture of
coke from coal.
Benzene evaporates easily, and most people can just
detect its distinctive smell at concentrations between
2.5 and 5 parts per million (ppm) in air.
Benzene is not the same as benzine, a petroleum
distillate which also comes from oil. However, as
either spelling may be mistakenly used for the other, it
is always wise to check.
You might be exposed to benzene at work during
certain jobs in:
• oil refineries;
• chemical and petrochemical plants including some
offshore installations;
• coke works; and
• the storage, distribution and use of petrol or benzene.
If you are in any doubt, ask your employer.
Benzene can be absorbed into your body:
• if you breathe in air containing benzene vapour;
• through your skin; and
• if you swallow material containing benzene.
The effects on your health depend on how much
benzene you are exposed to, and for how long.
Immediate effects of high exposure can include:
• headache;
• tiredness;
• nausea; and
• dizziness.
Unconsciousness may occur if exposure is very high.
Long-term exposure to benzene can result in serious
blood disorders such as anaemia and leukaemia (a form
of cancer).
If you could be exposed to benzene at work, you
• ask your employer about the risks, what precautions
to take and what to do in an emergency;
• follow the safe working procedures laid down by
your employer;
• avoid breathing in vapours containing benzene;
• avoid getting liquids containing benzene on your skin;
• use the ventilation equipment and personal
protective equipment provided, eg gloves, masks,
goggles. Gloves should be made from materials which
resist penetration by benzene. Natural rubber gloves
should not be worn as rubber absorbs benzene;
• report to your employer or safety representative
any damaged or defective ventilation plant or
protective equipment; and
• where required, attend any health checks arranged
at your workplace.
Work with benzene is subject to the Control of
Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
Regulations 2002.
Your employer is required to:
• assess the risks to your health and provide control
measures to protect you;
• prevent your exposure to benzene, eg by eliminating
its use or substituting a safer material, or if this is not
reasonably practicable, to adequately control your
• reduce so far as is reasonably practicable the
amount of benzene you breathe in, and in any case
to keep it below the maximum exposure limit* of
1 ppm averaged over an 8-hour working day;
• establish the extent of exposure, normally by means
of a monitoring programme;
• arrange any appropriate health checks;
• give you information on the risks of exposure to
benzene, and train you in the use of any equipment,
including personal protective equipment, used to
control your exposure; and
• make sure that any control measures and personal
protective equipment are kept in good working order.
* Maximum exposure limits are to be replaced by workplace
exposure limits
You are required to:
• co-operate with your employer;
• make full use of any control measures and report
any defects in equipment; and
• attend health checks arranged by your employer.
The Approved Codes of Practice made under the
COSHH Regulations contain further detailed information.
Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and
Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, your
employer is required to report to the Health and
Safety Executive (HSE) if:
• you suffer acute illness needing medical treatment;
• there is an accidental release of benzene in a
sufficient quantity to cause death or major injury;
• a doctor confirms benzene poisoning.
Employers must consult safety representatives appointed
by recognised trade unions under the Safety
Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations
1977. Other employees not covered by such
representatives must be consulted either directly, or
indirectly through elected representatives of employee
safety, according to the Health and Safety (Consultation
with Employees) Regulations 1996. Such consultations
allow employees or their representatives to help
employers develop control measures.
If you have any questions or worries that your health is
being affected by exposure to benzene or that adequate
precautions are not being taken, ask your supervisor,
safety representative or union to discuss them with
your employer, or discuss them with your doctor.
If you need further advice, contact HSE’s Infoline
Tel: 08701 545500 Fax: 02920 859260
e-mail: or write
to HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Business Park,
Caerphilly CF83 3GG. They may refer your enquiry to
the appropriate HSE Inspector or Employment Medical
Adviser, or to an Environmental Health Officer at your
Local Authority.
Control of substances hazardous to health. The Control of
Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Approved
Code of Practice and guidance L5 (Fourth edition) HSE Books
2002 ISBN 0 7176 2534 6
Occupational exposure limits: Containing the list of maximum
exposure limits and occupational exposure standards for use with
the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999
Environmental Hygiene Guidance Note EH40 (revised
annually) HSE Books 2002 ISBN 0 7176 2083 2
Occupational exposure limits: Supplement 2003 Environmental
Hygiene Guidance Note EH40/2002 HSE Books 2003
ISBN 0 7176 2172 3
Working safely with solvents: A guide to safe working practices
Leaflet INDG273 HSE Books 1998 (single copy free)
HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order
from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk
CO10 2WA Tel: 01787 881165 Fax: 01787 313995
Website: (HSE priced publications
are also available from bookshops and free leaflets can
be downloaded from HSE’s website:
? Crown copyright This publication may be freely reproduced,
except for advertising, endorsement or commercial
purposes. First published 10/97. Please acknowledge the
source as HSE.