The Safe Use Of Adhesives

There are dozens and dozens of commercially available adhesives in the UK, many of which are manufactured by Most commercial adhesives are completely safe to handle and work with, although some may be mild irritants and all should be handled with care. This document contains answers to some frequently asked questions on the safe use of adhesives and how you can ensure you protect yourself when working with adhesive and sealant materials.

Safe Use Of Adhesives

The information is provided in good faith and is only intended as a guide. It is based upon the current best practises and information available at the time of writing.

Is there a health risk to using commercially available adhesives?

In the UK, all adhesives must be safe to use without a risk to the users health, providing the user handles them with care and in line with the recommendations and instructions provided by the manufacturers. There has been a drive towards manufacturing non-toxic sealants in recent years and most adhesives do not contain hazardous substances.

However, because there is often a trade-off between how effective an adhesive is and how safe it is to handle, there may be ingredients in any adhesive that can be hazardous to human health should they be consumed, inhaled or come into contact with the skin. It is therefore essential for users to read the instructions and the warning labels that come with the adhesive in order to ensure the correct protective clothing is worn when working with the adhesive and the necessary precautionary steps are taken to prevent injury or a risk to health.

What warnings do the product labels carry?

Non-hazardous adhesives may display a short safety message on the label although most will have a dedicated safety panel that informs users which hazards they need to be mindful of. The hazards are usually depicted using a symbol with a short phrase or word.

There is actually a relatively new system of hazard symbols depicted on adhesives and other potentially hazardous materials. The old symbols consisted of black images in orange boxes; the new system uses black images in white squares with red borders. The symbols will inform the user what hazard they should be wary of as well as giving them an indication of how severe the hazard is.

Common symbols on an adhesive package to look out for are:

  • Flame: indicating a highly flammable product
  • Two test tubes: indicating a corrosive product that could burn the skin or eyes
  • Black cross/exclamation mark: could indicate a number of hazards. You should always be careful to read the accompanying label
  • Dead tree/fish: this symbol indicates the adhesive is potentially dangerous to the environment and should be disposed of accordingly. 

Should I be wearing protecting clothing?

Many adhesives can be irritating if they come in contact with the skin and, moreover, can be very difficult to remove if they set whilst on your fingers. It is therefore always a good idea to wear gloves when handling adhesives. The gloves should be waterproof and impermeable to the adhesives. For most small jobs, a set of polythene gloves will suffice.

If you are careful not to touch your face or eyes whilst using an adhesive then getting it in your eyes should not be an issue. The exception to this is when using an aerosol to apply the adhesive, in which case protective goggles should be worn.

What should I do if I get adhesive on my hands or skin?

Usually, getting adhesive on your skin is not much to worry about as long as you do not have sensitive skin or an allergy. As soon as you notice the adhesive remove it using a rag or by running your skin under water. If the adhesive has dried however you may need to use soap and a scrubbing brush to remove it from your skin.

If you find you develop a reaction that you suspect is a result of coming into contact with an adhesive it is a good idea to check the label and run the rash under cold water. If symptoms are severe or persist visit your GP, taking details of the adhesives you have come into contact with.

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