Exposure to workplace chemicals can result in various long and short-term effects on your health, like skin rashes, poisoning, and conditions of the lung, liver, and kidney.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there could be at least 650,000 dangerous chemicals in American workplaces. Workers use these chemicals to clean and disinfect surfaces, manufacture goods, create new chemicals, and carry out various other tasks.
Since hazardous chemicals put the safety and health of employees on the line, it’s imperative to train your employees on how to properly handle chemicals and respond in case of a spill. That said, here are 8 steps that can help you and your employees safely handle chemicals.
Know the Chemicals You’re Using
Understanding exactly what you’re handling is the first and most important part of safe chemical use. To do this, make sure to get the safety data sheet from the chemical supplier before the substance arrives. This will give you time to assess the hazards and implement any vital changes to workplace design, such as installing a new cage for a gas cylinder or buying new protective gear for employees.
From the safety data sheet, you’ll learn the chemical’s properties and possible hazards and risks when using it. Also carefully study the sheet as chemicals often contain more than one danger, meaning they might be combustible or toxic if inhaled. Understanding any chemical fully means knowing that it’s incompatible with some substances, flammable, or might cause an explosion if it comes into contact with heat.
Once you know exactly what you’re handling, you can buy the necessary protective equipment and clothing, design physical areas where you can safely store the chemical, develop safe work methods and operating procedures, safely store the chemical away from things that could cause a reaction, and label the chemical appropriately.
Apart from obtaining safety data sheets, you must follow other rules contained in the Hazard Communication protocol. If you have hazardous chemicals in your workplace, OSHA requires that you develop and put in place a Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) program.
The point of this program is to let your employees be aware of the hazardous chemicals in the workplace, what health effects these chemicals cause, and proper ways to control exposure to these chemicals.
You should also ensure that all containers carrying the chemicals are labelled correctly and that all employees are trained to properly handle hazardous substances.
Provide the Right Personal Protection Equipment
Working with dangerous chemicals can be very unsafe and workers must wear the right equipment to protect themselves.
The Safety data sheet will specify any personal protective equipment required for eye protection (goggles, eye guards), skin protection (rubber boots, chemical resistant gloves), respiratory protection (face masks, air supplied hoods), thermal protection (flame-resistant bodysuit), personal hygiene (overalls, aprons, washing hands), as well as eyewash stations, safety showers, or specialized first aid kits that must be available at the workplace.
Store Chemicals Safely
Safe storage of chemicals lowers the risk for fires, explosions, and other accidents in the workplace. Keep all chemicals in their right containers and place labels that show whether they’re flammable or can cause injuries. Use the right warning sign and placard.
As sparks and heat may cause chemical combustion, keep chemicals away from flames and sparks, static electricity, and direct sunlight. When storing hefty containers, make sure the shelves are strong enough to hold the containers without falling apart.
Perform regular inspections of storage areas to check for signs of chemical leaks and damaged containers. Keep incompatible substances away from each other. Keep chemicals away from working and food preparation areas. Keep chemicals away from unauthorized employees or contractors.
Train Your Employees Thoroughly
When dealing with hazardous chemicals at the workplace, you need to do more than just provide staff with personal protection equipment and safety clothing.
It’s essential to train employees who handle chemicals that are harmful to health. All of them need to know the potential risks and hazards that may occur, know how to decrease the risk of being exposed to hazardous chemicals, and know workplace exposure limits.
For more training information, you can read more now about this OSHA-authorized training program.
Enable Emergency Response
Employees should be able to access eyewash stations and first aid kits if a chemical accident happens. An eyewash station has a liquid that rinses the eyes out in case of a chemical splash. Your employees should know where the eyewash stations are located so they can access one even with limited vision.
The first aid kit should contain the following items: various sizes of gauze pads, adhesive bandages, gauze roller bandages, triangular bandages, scissors, tweezers, damp towelettes, latex gloves, elastic wraps, adhesive tape, splint, resuscitation equipment, and at least a blanket.
Clean all chemical spills right away using the directions on the product’s pack or the product’s safety data sheet.
Determine Whether You Really Need a Given Chemical
In ongoing risk reduction work, it’s important to determine whether you really need a particular chemical. More often than not, there could be another chemical that’s less dangerous to the environment and health. You could substitute the hazardous chemical with something that’s a lot safer.
Observe Personal Hygiene Tips
Forbid smoking inside the factory. Smokers should only smoke in specially designated areas. They should remember to wash their hands before lighting up; otherwise, chemical substances may be breathed in or transferred through the skin.
If there’s a spill, the employee should immediately wash off traces of the chemical from the skin. If they’re unsure of what to do, they should check the safety data sheet or ask their immediate superior.
Make sure that food products aren’t eaten or stored in areas where hazardous substances are handled.
Employees should keep their work clothes clean. If they have come into contact with hazardous chemicals, they should have a shower before going home.
Hazardous chemicals pose a dangerous problem for employers and their staff. Using the above tips is a great first step to creating a comprehensive plan to protect you and your employees from chemical hazards.