by Dr. Isabel Perry, “The Safety Doctor”
Whether you work in an office, a shop, a kitchen or a factory, you are working near chemical substances. In an office environment you may only be exposed to cleaning materials or paints; factories and industrial facilities might contain a variety of extremely dangerous materials which can be life-threatening if mishandled.
Manufacturers of chemical materials are required to determine the level of hazard for each product they sell. They must make this information known to potential buyers and provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) detailing the handling of these hazardous materials.
It is important to learn the specific safety requirements for each chemical you handle. Know what chemicals should not be mixed together or stored together (in case of accident). Take special care to use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever working with hazardous chemicals.
What makes a chemical “hazardous”? A hazardous substance is any substance that can cause harm to people or the environment. This includes materials that are:
¨ Toxic – may cause sickness or death
¨ Corrosive –cause irritation or burns to the skin or eyes on contact
¨ Flammable – catch fire easily
¨ Reactive – could explode under certain circumstances
There are four ways that chemicals can cause harm:
- Contact – with skin or eyes
- Ingestion – in food or beverages or smoking materials that become contaminated in areas where chemicals are present
- Injection – by cutting or sticking yourself with a contaminated instrument
Protecting yourself should be your first priority. Learn all you can about the chemicals around you. Read the MSDS and the label. Wear personal protective equipment. Follow any safety procedures your company has in place. If you feel your company needs additional measures, make recommendations.
Taking precautions and remaining alert are the best preventatives against harm.
Here are some basic guidelines to follow anywhere:
¨ Make sure that food, cigarettes and street clothing are not left in the work area where they can become contaminated.
¨ Is the correct type of fire equipment readily available? (Check our article on Fire Safety)
¨ Is there adequate ventilation?
¨ Where are the emergency eyewash kits kept, and where are the emergency showers?
¨ Have items that burn, explode or react with chemicals been removed?
¨ Do you know who to contact in case of an emergency?
¨ Do you know what to do in an emergency?
¨ Do you have all the protective equipment you’ll need?
¨ Does someone know where you are at all times and what you are doing?
In case of an accident or spill:
¨ Clean it up immediately
¨ Make sure that you’re wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment to do the cleanup.
¨ Properly dispose of the cleanup and materials used for clean up.
If you are overexposed to a chemical:
¨ Let a supervisor know immediately
¨ Get medical attention
¨ If your skin has been exposed, wash the area with water only for at least 15 solid minutes
¨ If you have inhaled something, get fresh air immediately
Be aware of the possible chemical hazards which exist in your work area, and follow instructions for handling chemicals safely. Take responsibility for your health and safety, and for the health and safety of your co-workers!