Working Safely with Hazardous Chemicals

When working with chemicals it is important to understand that the harmful effects of many of they are not yet known, or they are known but safety measures have not yet been adapted. Therefore, it is vital to always take safety measures. With this in mind, all workers must realize that chemicals can enter the body via three methods; inhalation (by breathing), absorption (through the skin), and ingestion (through the mouth). In addition, chemicals can take any of the following forms; dust, vapor, gas, solid, or liquid, and all can be equally harmful.

Some chemicals, such as acid, can cause immediate harm while others cause health problems years later. Two good examples of this are; chlorine will cause severe lung damage immediately, while asbestos will cause lung damage, in the form of cancer, years after exposure.

Material Safety Data Sheets / Risk and Safety Statement

Although different countries use different names, they all serve the same purpose, and that is to warn the users of the risks, how to avoid the dangers, and what to do if an accident happens. In North America they are called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), while in Europe they are called Risk and Safety Statement.

Any chemical purchased for the work or for the home is legally suppose to include an MSDS or a Risk and Safety Statement. These sheets are supposed to list information such as:

  • Properties of the substance,
  • Proper procedures for handling the substance,
  • Physical data such as its boiling point, melting point, etc.,
  • Proper storage methods,
  • What protective equipment should be used,
  • What needs to be done if a contamination occurs,
  • First aid procedures,
  • Health effects.

Safety Precautions

  • The protective equipment to be used will depend on the type of work being done and the chemicals that are being used. Make sure that the equipment is designed to offer enough protection, e.g. a latex glove will not provide any protection at all from corrosive chemicals.
  • Personal protective equipment:
    • Breathing barriers to prevent the inhalation of gases or fumes.
    • Eye protection to protect from splashing of liquid chemicals.
    • Rubber gloves to protect from corrosive liquids.
    • Rubber aprons.
    • Rubber boots.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation, and/or a method of expelling the chemical (e.g. gas).
  • Have clear exits in case an accident occurs.
  • Block off the work area so others don't enter.
  • Have fire extinguishes readily available.
  • Know the best way to notify rescue authorities.
  • Do not work alone.
  • In some cases one worker should always be outside the immediate danger area so they can obtain assistance should an accident occurs.
  • Have wash stations at work in case of an accident.
  • Change clothing before leaving work, so as to not bring chemicals into your home.
  • If an accident does occur, even if there are no injuries, a report must be filled out and the supervisors must be notified immediately.
  • In addition, immediate steps must be taken to prevent a similar accident from happening.
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