7 Expert Tips for Working with Chemical Hazards
Chemical hazards are capable of violent reactions. If they’re improperly handled, they could impair someone’s breathing, burn their skin, or explode. Not every chemical hazard has the potential to cause severe injuries or fatalities, but if it’s dangerous enough to be classed as a “hazard”, it’s dangerous enough to be taken seriously.
However, despite the risk, modern industry works with and around chemical hazards daily. Many of whom use the chemicals safely and responsibly. They achieve this by taking steps like monitoring for leaks, providing PPE, or implementing an incident response plan. But there’s no one answer when dealing with all chemicals. With some chemicals, even oxygen can catalyze a dangerous reaction, while others are inert. So, with that in mind, let’s look at the ways clever industrialists have prepared their teams and environments to use these solvents safely and productively.
Explore this Article
- What Constitutes a “Chemical Hazard”?
- Tip #1: Implement a Chemical Hazard Employee Training Program
- Tip #2: Inspect and Maintain Workspaces and Equipment
- Tip #3: Properly Label Hazardous Chemicals
- Tip #4: Install Necessary Detectors
- Tip #5: Ensure Proper Ventilation
- Tip #6: Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Tip #7: Establish an Incident Response Plan for Spills
- The Goal of Chemical Hazard Safety is to Get as Close as Possible to 0 Yearly Incidents
When dealing with chemical hazards, identifying the chemical is step one. Remember, any highly concentrated chemical can react to its environment. If you’re unsure if you’re dealing with a hazardous chemical, look at all the labels and heavily research the product. Only after identification can you plan your next steps.
WHMIS stresses chemical classifications for a reason. Each one of these classifications reacts differently. So knowing the classification could be the difference between a spill and an emergency.
- Asphyxiants – These make it difficult or impossible for the body to absorb oxygen through the lungs. Depending on the type and concentration of the chemical, it may or may not be fatal.
- Sensitizers/Allergens – With repeated exposure, people who didn’t initially react to these chemicals may eventually develop an allergy to them.
- Flammables – This one is pretty self-explanatory. If a chemical combusts easily, there’s an increased danger of injuries, fatalities, and property damage due to out-of-control fires.
- Irritants – These are most dangerous to living organisms, as they usually manifest as short-term illnesses such as coughing, rashes, inflammation, redness, or even hemorrhaging.
- Carcinogens – This type of chemical hazard is especially insidious since it can take years for complications to arise post-exposure. The severity of the effects will depend on multiple factors, such as the type and concentration of the carcinogen, the length of exposure, etc.
- Corrosives – Direct contact of corrosives to any surface will change its composition, sometimes permanently.
Organizations whose employees handle chemical hazards can’t simply rely on common sense to keep incidents to a minimum; it’s also their responsibility to provide the proper safety training. At minimum, employees should carry the necessary certifications for each class of chemical hazard they’ll be handling. However, there are plenty of courses that can take employee training beyond the bare minimum. For example, training courses that help develop a better safety culture can reduce incidents like forgetting to wear proper respiratory protection, which was the second most common safety violation reported by OSHA for 2021.
Whether it’s inspecting chemical storage containers or servicing the central air conditioning, organizations of all types should be proactive in preventing accidental exposure to hazardous chemicals.
This includes getting rid of equipment that’s broken, worn-out, or cracked. If employees are regularly handling dangerous chemicals with equipment or implements that are close to failing, that’s just an accident waiting to happen.
Organizations whose employees work around hazardous chemicals have to clearly label them, and there are several good reasons for this. For one, this tells workers what could happen if the chemical is mishandled or spilled. For another, it tells them how to properly handle and store the chemical.
For example, flammable materials should be stored in a temperature-controlled room that’s free of heat or sparks; asphyxiants should be stored in well-ventilated areas; and irritants should be kept in puncture-proof, spill-proof containers. Without the correct labels these details could easily be overlooked, with potentially grave consequences.
With so many chemical hazards being virtually undetectable even at dangerous levels, it’s vital to monitor them with detectors. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are standard for office spaces, but workplaces that contain other hazardous materials should have additional detectors and alarms installed if needed.
From offices to chemical laboratories, some level of ventilation is a must. This could mean a well-laid-out floor plan for offices, or a powerful ventilation system for chemical laboratories or other chemical manufacturing facilities.
This could include face masks, gas masks, gloves, safety goggles, or aprons. For the most corrosive or toxic chemicals, hazmat suits that are rated for the specific class of chemical may be required.
Even with the best preventative measures in place, spills will happen eventually – and when they do, there should be an incident response plan already in place to mitigate the damage. Most incident response plans for chemical spills include containment procedures, first aid kits (and people who know how to use them), showers, fire extinguishers, evacuation plans, and a clear coordination plan that involves emergency personnel and supervisors. Each organization will need their own unique incident response plan, but the overall objectives remain the same: address the current damage, and stop further damage from taking place.
Even if a perfect score for workplace safety isn’t realistically possible, that’s still what every organization should strive for. Whether it’s the organization itself providing appropriate training and safety equipment, or the employees rigorously following protocols, everyone should do their part to maintain a safe work environment despite chemical hazards.