Concateno, a European chemical, drug and alcohol testing provider, has been selected by Norwegian shipping company, Seatrans AS, to monitor the potential exposure of its seafaring crew to benzene. Concateno provides a unique service for monitoring personnel for benzene, and its maritime test service was runner up in the Safety at Sea Seatrade Awards last year. Appointed by Seatrans, Concateno will establish and implement an effective program to test and monitor benzene levels among crew members and assess the risk of exposure onboard Seatrans vessels.
Benzene is a chemical that is commonly used in industrial and manufacturing processes, but it is highly toxic and can cause a range of diseases including cancer, and can affect human DNA. Long-term low level exposure can lead to serious health problems such as leukaemia, however, even short-term exposure to low levels can be irritating to eyes, cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion and in some cases unconsciousness. Exposure to high concentrations can result in death. It is mostly ingested into the body by inhalation, but can also be absorbed through the skin.
The recent tightening of international regulations relating to benzene exposure and seafarer welfare has lead to increased adoption of chemical testing and monitoring programs in the shipping industry.
Changes to SOLAS regulation VI/ 5-1 regarding Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) provision for the shipment of MARPOL Annex 1 cargoes came into effect in January 2010. This information highlights the presence of benzene in crude oil, bunker oil and a number of other cargoes. It then details the actions required to reduce attendant risks from exposure to this substance.
In addition, the new Maritime Labour Convention, which was adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in February 2006, has been designed to ensure the highest standards of healthcare, safety and welfare for seafarers. This is expected to come into effect in 2011.
Graham Birch, head of sales for Concateno’s Maritime sector, said: “Since we have added a low-cost, sensitive benzene specific test to our range of services, the self-test kits have been quickly taken up by shipping companies across the world. Many vessels keep a stock of the kits on board in case an accident or collision occurs that might involve exposure to benzene. Test kits are not just required after accidents and emergencies, however, but can also be used to monitor crew members after normal work duties, such as tank cleaning.