Isocyanates are a family of highly reactive organic compounds that contain the isocyanate functional group of the formula R-N=C=O.

Spray painters using two-pack polyurethane paints are the group at highest risk of exposure to isocyanates. The repair and refinishing of cars entails the sprayed on application of isocyanate-containing coatings on almost every vehicle. The largest volume use of isocyanates is in the production of polyurethane foams. Examples of work activities involving isocyanates that require special attention when assessing exposure include:

  • all stages of manufacture and use where free isocyanates are released as vapours, aerosols and mists:
    • spray painting, using two-pack paints with an isocyanate hardener, like in vehicle paints
    • use of rigid foams for thermal insulation
    • use of flexible foams for bedding and upholstery
    • use of hard wearing coatings for furniture and floors
    • manufacture of sporting goods such as skis, surfboards and footwear, and
    • spray on polyurethane products
  • processes where heat decomposition of polyurethane products
  • foundry operations

This guide provides information for those registered medical practitioners engaged by a PCBU to carry out or supervise health monitoring for workers. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the following:

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