Chemical products from commercial sectors can create hazards to human health and the environment. Unfortunately, most employees still see chemical safety as more of a regulatory issue than a managerial issue. They are often concerned about the cost, liability, and disruption in productivity that may result from addressing workplace chemical hazards. And, few companies realize how valuable it is to be able to avoid, reduce, or control hazards to human health and the environment.
However, today’s sophisticated environmental technologies can be a huge part of the solution. By improving engineering controls or by replacing hazardous chemicals, employers can make their workplaces safer and more productive.
Why Chemical Hazards Are So Common:
There are four major reasons chemical hazards occur in the workplace:
- Because many chemicals are hazardous. Many chemicals can be dangerous if inhaled, absorbed, or ingested
- Because they may be stored or used in a manner that allows them to evaporate into the air
- Because they are used in processes that don’t fully remove them from the final product
- Because they are mishandled or released into the environment
Let’s take a look at each of these reasons. Many chemicals are hazardous. The following are some of the more hazardous chemicals used in the workplace:
Many chemicals are very flammable and may react violently when exposed to heat, fire, or light. These can ignite when exposed to sparks, electrical short circuits, overheated machinery, and the like. Many other chemicals also pose potential health or environmental hazards to employees or others in the workplace or to nearby residents or businesses.
Even chemicals that are very safe when handled properly may pose an immediate threat if mishandled, stored, transported, or used improperly.
Because they may be stored or used in a manner that allows them to evaporate into the air.
Many chemicals are volatile, meaning that they can be released into the air in the presence of heat, light, or open flame. Most chemical products are “volatile” in nature, whether they are used in a work process or released into the environment.
For example Gasoline: Gasoline is a very volatile product. An automobile engine may not be running, but the gasoline still poses an explosion hazard.
Oils: Liquid oil is a very volatile substance. If it leaks, it may burn or explode.
Paints: A painted wall is a “source” of volatile chemical products that may evaporate into the air.
Pesticides: All herbicides and many insecticides are very volatile. Even if not released directly, these compounds can migrate through the soil and air to nearby plants, where they may pose a health or environmental hazard.
Many petroleum products are flammable. Alcohol. There are many types of alcohol, and many of them can be flammable. Many types of beverages contain alcoholic beverages.
How to Avoid or Control Chemical Hazards:
The first step toward controlling hazardous chemicals is identifying them. Once you’ve identified hazardous chemicals, the next step is to control them. You can either:
- Control the conditions that release the chemicals to the environment, including both equipment that is part of the process (such as storage tanks and piping) and equipment that is not (such as ventilation systems)
- Limit the number of chemicals that are used to protect against losses to the environment
- Protect employees from chemical exposure, by wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE)
If chemical hazards are inevitable, you can still take reasonable steps to reduce the risks posed to employees and the environment. You can, for example:
- Use engineering controls and work practices to prevent or reduce hazards
- Redirect the use of chemical products to less hazardous uses
Before introducing chemical products into your workplace, it’s important to understand the inherent hazards associated with the chemical products and the best methods for storing and using them. Not all chemicals are safe, and some chemicals can be hazardous even if they are correctly stored and used. Make sure that you are aware of the following hazards associated with each product that you use or store.