Chemicals in the work environment are commonplace and necessary for making our jobs easier and more productive. But these benefits are also accompanied by many hazards. Failure to understand the hazards of products can lead to their casual use and often leads to employee injuries, costly clean-up, or property losses. Used properly, most products can be both safe and effective. So how can an employer protect workers required to use chemicals as part of their daily work? Here are some simple guidelines:
1. Identify the chemicals you use.
2. Take an inventory of all chemicals used in your workplace by department. List the quantities on hand, where they are stored, and what they are stored in.
3. Request Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the companies that supply the chemicals you have identified on the inventory list. Keep a log of all MSDSs on hand. These will be needed for training of employees and for quick reference in the event of an emergency.
4. Label all containers with the following information:
• Name of the chemical.
• Concentration (strength) of the chemical.
• Information about hazards associated with the chemical (For example, skin irritant) and emergency information (“If chemical gets in eyes…”).
• The manufacturer’s name.
• The date of manufacture (chemicals can degrade over time).
5. Identify the safe uses of the chemicals in your workplace:
• Follow safe handling instructions and identify personal protective equipment to be used while handling chemicals.
• Beware of instructions regarding the mixing of chemicals.
• Always wash yourself thoroughly after handling chemicals. If a chemical spills on you, wash it off at once. Some workplaces have a chemical shower that you can use to get cleaned up quickly.
• Don’t eat, drink, or smoke when you’re handling chemicals. You could accidentally swallow some chemicals or accidentally ignite flammable chemicals if you’re smoking.
Chemicals must always be stored in a safe place with similar-type chemicals. You should never store chemicals with food items. Most chemicals will belong to a specific category, and you need to make sure that only chemicals from the same category are stored together. If you’re not sure what category a
chemical belongs to, always check its label or refer to its MSDS.
Categories might include:
Chemicals such as methanol, ethanol, and kerosene are very flammable and need to be kept away from heat and substances that might cause them to
ignite or explode. In most workplaces, flammable chemicals are stored in a separate cupboard or cabinet that has been specially designed for them.
Oxidizing chemicals quickly and easily react with other chemicals. Because of this, they should only be stored with other oxidizing chemicals.
Chemicals such as acids can corrode substances. They can also react violently and explosively if they come into contact with other types of chemicals.
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