Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Warning light icon 1300 888 338

Lab testing icon Australia wide Sample Testing

4.9 from 479 Google Reviews
4.9 from 479 Google Reviews

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Are you concerned about exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the workplace? Airsafe’s occupational hygiene team can screen for up to 60 different VOCs. We also do targeted monitoring for specific VOCs if you’re in a high-risk industry or engage in activities known to generate VOCs.

Volatile organic compounds: what are they?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that have a low boiling point, meaning they become vapour at room temperature. VOCs are very common, and are encountered in the natural world (biogenic VOCs) as well as from human activity (anthropogenic VOCs).

In the natural world, VOCs play an important role in communication between animals and plants.

In the human world, VOCs are used in many household products, including perfumes and cleaning products. They are also generated in industrial settings, including:

  • fossil fuel use and production
  • solvents used in coatings, paints and inks
  • compressed aerosol products such a butane and propane
  • biofuels used in some parts of the world
  • biomass combustion, especially from rainforests.

Outdoor and indoor exposure to VOCs

VOCs affect air quality both outdoors and indoors: for example, we all breathe in VOCs outdoors via car exhaust.

However, levels of exposure indoors can be much higher: typically 2 to 5 times as high as outdoors, sometimes more more.

VOC concentrations are often particularly high in new buildings due to the process known as off-gassing, where new building materials, fittings, surface coverings, glues, paints and sealants emit a cocktail of VOCs. This makes proper ventilation especially important when occupying a new home or premises.

While new buildings are a particular concern, there are also everyday workplace activities that produce VOCs. One of the most common of these is the use of office printers and photocopiers. If you have a gas stove in your workplace, that’s also a potential source of VOCs. Finally, smoking generates VOCs among all its other health effects – another reason to be vigilant about enforcing workplace smoking bans.

cigarette smoke

Health effects of VOCs

While not all exposure to VOCs is harmful, in recent years there have been rising concerns about the health effects of excessive exposure to some VOCs.

It’s common for people to experience irritation, allergic or immune reactions to VOCs. Symptoms can range from irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, to headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney or central nervous system.

Certain VOCs are also associated with cancer.

Monitoring VOC levels

Airsafe’s occupational hygiene team are experts at monitoring levels of VOC concentration in indoor environments. Using our state-of-the-art equipment, we often start with a general screening which is able to identify around 60 different VOCs.

If you are in a high-risk industry or carrying out certain kinds of activities, we’re also able to do more focused monitoring for specific VOCs.

VOCs and exposure standards

While there are guidelines for total VOCs (TVOCs), in practice the exposure standards that are most relevant to VOC exposure in the workplace are those that apply to individual chemicals that are particularly hazardous.

To help you comply with work, health and safety regulations, Airsafe will advise you on the relevant exposure standards and conduct rigorous monitoring to ensure you are meeting them.

  • There are general steps you can take to minimise your workers’ exposure to potentially hazardous VOCs. The American Lung Association recommends two measures in particular: avoiding or limiting use of products with high VOCs, and adding ventilation when you use products with VOCs indoors.

    To avoid or limit the use of products with high VOCs, you can:

    • use products that are specifically designed to be low in VOCs (see below)
    • where possible, eliminate work practices that use VOCs
    • buy only as much as you need, and dispose of leftover or unused products safely
    • always follow manufacturers’ directions.

    Specific advice around ventilation includes:

    • opening windows and using a fan to pull indoor air outside
    • airing carpets and new building products outside to allow them to de-gas before installing them
    • not storing products with COVs indoors, including in garages
    • test ventilation systems to make sure they are working effectively.

  • One way in which industry can help minimise exposure of workers and others to VOCs is by using low-VOC products. In particular, there are a number of paints available which are accredited as low-VOC according to the Australian Paint Approval Scheme. There are also paints available which are completely VOC-free.

    A good way to find low-VOC paints is using the Sensitive Choice program run by the National Asthma Council. The program’s website lists a number of approved paints, one of the criteria for approval being the use of low-VOC formulas.

    The website Architecture and Design also has a guide to Eight of Australia’s best low and zero VOC paints, including products from household name paint brands as well as niche companies that specialise in environmentally responsible products.

  • In the past, the majority of VOCs contributing to air pollution were generated by vehicles. However, a 2018 scientific study summarised in The Conversation showed that this is changing: as vehicle emission standards have gotten tighter, VOCs released into the air by vehicles have dramatically decreased.

    While this is good news, it’s focused attention on other sources of VOCs, which in the past have often been ignored when predicting pollution levels. For example, the study has found that chemical products (including cleaning products, paints, fragrances and printer ink) now account for as much as 60% of the outdoor VOC concentration in Los Angeles. The study’s authors suggest that attention needs to turn to these products for greater awareness, regulation and control.

Airsafe can set your mind at rest about VOC exposure with comprehensive risk assessment, monitoring and advice. If you’re concerned about VOCs in your workplace, call Airsafe on 1300 888 338.

Thank you for your enquiry.

We'll aim to respond within 24 hours.


We'll aim to respond within 24 hours.

All fields are mandatory unless specified otherwise

Warning light icon

Please review the highlighted fields and try again

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Need a rapid response?

Contact us for assistance with identifying hazardous materials, investigating contaminated land, undertaking air quality testing to quantify risks, and developing your risk management plan.

Airsafe always places your health as the highest priority.

Call us on 1300 888 338

Airsafe employee in front of an Airsafe van

Thank you for your enquiry.

We'll aim to respond within 24 hours.

Send an enquiry

We'll aim to respond within 24 hours.

All fields are mandatory unless specified otherwise

Warning light icon

Please review the highlighted fields and try again

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.