It may not be an aspect of our job that we think about on a daily basis, but nothing is more important in the workplace than safety. For many professionals, especially those who work in the engineering, medical, or automotive industries, (and for all others who work in factories or laboratories) careful consideration must be paid to chemicals. It’s important to know how to handle chemicals, how to recognize common hazardous materials, and how to safely dispose of them.
According to OSHA, about 32 million workers are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards. There are about 650,000 existing chemical products, with hundreds more being introduced annually. This means the threat of exposure to hazardous chemicals is more common than we may realize.
Handling Chemicals in the Workplace
Improper handling of chemicals at the job site can have significant consequences including injuries, clean-up costs, and higher insurance premiums. Keep your employees and your workplace safe with these tips:
1. Clearly Label Every Chemical
According to OSHA, all employers who use hazardous chemicals are required to label and have safety data sheets readily available to all employees.
2. Train Employees on How to Handle Chemicals
This is also an OSHA requirement. As part of the training, employees must be taught what measures need to be used to protect themselves and their coworkers from chemical exposure.
3. Wash Yourself Thoroughly After Handling
If there’s a chemical shower available where you work, always use it after handling chemicals. Wash every exposed area of skin – and eyes – thoroughly with the recommended cleaning agent.
4. Keep the Stockroom Safe
Make sure the chemical storage room is organized and that proper inventory is being kept. Ensure there is always proper ventilation and that chemicals are disposed of properly.
Types of Hazardous Materials
Know what types of chemicals exist in the workplace – and their potential dangers. For a comprehensive list of common workplace chemicals and their effects, visit the Center for Disease Control’s website.
As a general rule, chemicals are considered hazardous if they have one or more of these characteristics:
- reactivity, or
Common flammable chemicals include ethanol, methanol and kerosene. These chemicals should be kept away from heat because they can easily catch fire or explode. Flammable chemicals must be kept separate from other chemicals; stored in a marked cabinet or other storage area designed for them.
Oxidizing chemicals quickly and easily react with other chemicals. Because of this, they must only be stored with other oxidizing agents and never with flammable or corrosive materials!
Chemicals such as acids, like mineral acids or alkyl hydroxides, can corrode substances. They can also react violently and explosively if they come into contact with other types of chemicals. It’s important that anyone handling corrosives wear skin and eye protective clothing.
Tips for Disposing Hazardous Chemicals
- Hazardous materials must always be accompanied with written instructions on how to dispose of them safely.
- Never dispose of hazardous chemicals including solvents and acids by pouring them down sewer or sink drains.
- Always label bottles with the words “chemical waste” clearly written. Also, write the names of the solvents on the bottle. Resist writing the chemical combinations or abbreviations, as it may cause confusion.
- Use glass or polyethylene bottles to dispose of the waste. Never dispose of chemical waste in aluminum cans, as the aluminum may corrode.