How coatings and adhesives players can turn regulatory challenges into opportunities

Complying with fast-changing coatings and adhesives regulations is essential not just for individual companies, but for the industry as a whole. But how can coatings and adhesives manufacturers turn regulatory challenges into opportunities to add value – and how will this contribute to a safer, more sustainable industry? Robert Maleika, Covestro’s Head of Technical Product Management Isocyanates, explains in this interview.

How important is it to maintain a robust industrial hygiene program in coatings and adhesives manufacturing?

Industrial hygiene refers to the science and practice of identifying, evaluating, and controlling workplace factors that could potentially cause harm to workers' health and well-being. And this is crucial in the manufacturing and application of coatings and adhesives, which involves chemicals such as solvents, resins, pigments, and additives. Some of these chemicals are potentially harmful if workers are exposed to them through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion, and working with them can also result in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). By implementing industrial hygiene measures such as engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE), the risk of exposure can be significantly reduced.

What are the key elements of a robust industrial hygiene program?

Some of the most important elements are implementing measures to monitor and control exposure, conducting health assessments, providing relevant training, and ensuring compliance with safety regulations. It’s important to consider using less hazardous chemicals or alternative processes that generate fewer emissions and reduce exposure risks. And everybody handling chemicals should ensure that appropriate PPE, such as gloves, goggles, respirators, and protective clothing, is used correctly.
Above all, industrial hygiene requires a proactive approach. By integrating safety practices into everyday operations, companies can achieve better long-term outcomes for employee health, regulatory compliance, and overall business success.

“A safe and healthy work environment ultimately contributes to productivity. When workers feel that their wellbeing is a priority, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their tasks.”

Robert Maleika

Head of Technical Product Management Isocyanates

How can companies strike a balance between productivity and ensuring the health and safety of their workforce?

A safe and healthy work environment ultimately contributes to productivity. When workers feel that their wellbeing is a priority, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their tasks. By investing in the right resources, training, and technologies – such as products combining low hazard profiles and high productivity – companies can create a culture where both productivity and workers’ well-being are prioritized.

There’s an ongoing commitment to enhancing industrial hygiene in the coatings and adhesives industry – one recent example is REACH’s introduction of mandatory training for diisocyanates workers in August 2023. How can companies leverage this regulatory change as an opportunity to innovate and differentiate themselves?

Under these new REACH regulations, EU legislators have set the threshold for diisocyanate content at 0.1%. Below this, the mandatory training requirement is waived – although Covestro still actively endorses effective employee training on the safe handling of isocyanates. Nevertheless, this regulation provides a strong incentive for coatings manufacturers to set themselves apart by developing formulations containing less than 0.1% free diisocyanates.

Resins that satisfy this requirement while still meeting demanding performance criteria – like those in our Desmodur® Ultra series – can support manufacturers in developing these formulations.

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As technology advancements and other trends continue to shape the coatings and adhesives industry, how is the approach to industrial hygiene evolving to address modern challenges?

There are a few key trends affecting the approach to industrial hygiene in the coatings and adhesives industry. One is the use of automation and robotics in manufacturing processes, which may reduce the need for direct human interaction with potentially hazardous substances. This can lead to decreased exposure risks and improved worker safety. Some companies, including Covestro, are now developing tailor-made raw materials to meet the needs of these application technologies.

Secondly, as the coatings and adhesives industry places greater emphasis on more sustainable practices, companies are increasingly aligning industrial hygiene programs with their sustainability efforts, considering the impact of alternative materials, processes, and waste management on both workers’ health and the environment.

Advancements in technology can also result in new regulations and standards, which companies need to stay up to date on. Solid data can help in assessing the efficiency of any new measures. A good example is the current German Cohort Study, which started in March 2023. The data analyzed through this program, i.e. measuring the impact of training according to REACH restrictions, will help to validate and improve the implemented measures.

Overall, companies are taking an increasingly proactive approach to industrial hygiene: it's not just about minimizing exposure to known hazards, but also about anticipating and addressing emerging risks. By incorporating modern technologies and innovative approaches, coatings and adhesives manufacturers can protect workers’ health and safety without compromising product performance or quality. Ultimately, this will contribute to a safer, more sustainable, and more successful industry.

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