Objectives Since the 1970s studies have shown that vehicle collision repair workers are at risk of exposure to organic solvent mixtures and their neurotoxic effects. Solvent exposures in this industry have generally declined in the past 20 years, but it is unclear whether this has been sufficient to prevent health effects. We have conducted a cross-sectional study to assess contemporary solvent exposures and neurotoxic symptoms in workers from the collision repair industry in New Zealand.
Methods Neurobehavioural symptoms were assessed in 370 collision repair workers (spray painters and panel beaters) and 215 reference workers from the construction industry using the EUROQUEST questionnaire. Full-shift solvent exposure levels were also determined in a subset (n = 92) of collision repair workers.
Results Current solvent exposures were higher in spray painters than in panel beaters, but levels were well below current exposure standards. Collision repair workers were more likely to report neurobehavioural symptoms than reference workers with ORs of 2.0, 2.4 and 6.4 (p < 0.05) for reporting ≥5, ≥10 and ≥15 symptoms respectively. Panel beaters generally had the greatest number of symptoms. Associations with specific symptom domains showed increased risk for neurological (OR 4.2), psychosomatic (OR 3.2), mood (OR 2.1), memory (OR 2.9) and memory and concentration symptoms combined (OR 2.4). Regardless of duration of employment in the industry collision repair workers were at higher risk of neurobehavioural symptoms than reference workers and some evidence of a dose-response trend was observed. However, this was likely weakened by a ‘healthy worker survivor bias’.
Conclusions Despite general reductions in solvent exposure in the collision repair industry and low measurements in the workshops involved, spray painters and panel beaters still appear to be at significant risk of neurobehavioural symptoms.
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