Dangerous Chemicals in the Workplace: Take Precautions Before It's Too Late

Harmful chemicals are everywhere, even in the home. Most of the time they do not cause a problem. But, if they are used improperly it can be devastating. Chemicals can cause minor injuries, such as temporary rashes, to immediate death. Some chemicals cause harm immediately, while others appear to be harmless until years later when a disease pops up, e.g. lung cancer from asbestos.

Before working with any chemical one should learn what it is, possible hazards, accident prevention methods, safety equipment that should be used, and what to do if an accident does occur.

Chemicals can be in various forms: dust, fume, gas, mist, liquid, or vapor. Sometimes they just irritate, other times they can cause cancer. They can enter the body by inhalation, absorbed through the skin, ingested (via swallowing), or via injection.

Ammonia: Damages the lungs, even in small amounts, and can be fatal. Can cause blindness if it gets into the eyes, and can cause burns on the skin.

Chlorine: Damages the respiratory system and can be fatal in severe cases.

Carbon Dioxide: A by-product of brewing. It is dangerous because it saturates the air around us, making it harder for the body to eliminate its own carbon dioxide. In extreme cases it cause unconsciousness and death.

Carbon Monoxide: A by-product of incomplete combustion, such as from a malfunctioning engine. It is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. It makes people feel very sleepy which can lead to unconsciousness and then death.

Lead: This chemical accumulates in the body, causing muscle tremors, anemia, and brain damage. In unborn children it can cause birth defects.

Asbestos: If inhaled it can lead to lung cancer several years later. Asbestos is used in building materials. It is normally harmless unless the object, e.g. a wall, becomes damaged and the asbestos is exposed.

Legionnaire's Disease: A bacteria that is found in water and soil, especially in moisture of air conditioning units. It causes headaches, fever, muscle and joint pain and pneumonia.

Silica: Can result in scar tissue damage in the lungs, leading to trouble breathing, chest pain, and at times heart and lung failure. This compound is found in rock, mining, and quarries.

Isocyanates: These are solvents that can cause severe respiratory tract irritation, and asthma. On the skin it can cause dermatitis.

Organic Solvents: Can cause sleepiness and eventually unconsciousness. On the skin it can cause dermatitis.

Safety Precautions

Safety precautions will depend on the substance, so always read warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). General precautions include:

  • If possible find an alternate safer product.
  • Have proper ventilation systems.
  • Never mix chemicals, unless they are designed for this.
  • Limit exposure times.
  • Wear personal protective equipment. This may mean full self-contained-breathing apparatus, pending on the product being used.
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