How to avoid injuries when working with dangerous chemicals

The avoidance of injuries to employees who have to work with dangerous chemicals is achieved solely by the existence of an expertly planned and comprehensively implemented health and safety plan within a company. This plan will include the identification of dangerous chemical related hazards and the imposition of a risk management strategy which will result in the elimination or reduction to acceptable levels of the risks posed to employees by working with dangerous chemicals.

‘Dangerous chemicals’ describes those substances which, if released, would be a threat to people and/or the environment and the aim of a risk management system in a workplace is to effectively prevent people being exposed to the substance or of it contaminating the environment. Both exposure and contamination can be prevented by the following:

• Acting on the information about the properties of the chemicals, which their manufacturers are legally obliged to supply to anyone using them. This will include the level of toxicity, safe exposure limits, storage information, whether they are flammable, explosive, poisonous, corrosive or radio-active and if they are incompatible with other chemicals.

• Designing work processes around the safe use of the chemicals.

• Providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees, which might include acid resistant overalls, boots and gloves, goggles and respiratory protection.

• Providing adequate training in the use of the PPE.

• Ensuring a clean and uncluttered working environment to avoid slips, trips and falls.

• Providing employees with all necessary information about the properties of the chemicals they are working with and the risks associated with that work.

• Providing employees with all necessary health and safety and hazard awareness training so that they understand the purpose of and need for the various risk control measures surrounding their work with dangerous chemicals.

• Providing employee training in the recognition of symptoms of exposure to dangerous chemicals that pose a health risk. Such symptom might include breathing difficulties, irritation of the respiratory tract, throat, eyes or skin, dizziness, nausea and other digestive problems, blurred vision or persistent headaches.

• Providing adequate ventilation systems or a stable temperature for temperature sensitive chemicals.

• Safe disposal of out of date chemicals and use of a stock register or manifest to ensure that out of date stock is not used and that current stock can be accounted for (information the Fire Service will require should a fire break out on a site storing and using dangerous chemicals).

• Regular maintenance of chemical storage containers, pipework and valves and accidental spillage/release containment systems.

Regulations pertaining to the safe use of dangerous chemicals are extensive and it is the duty of employers to ensure that they are familiar with their legal obligations when it comes to keeping their employees and the wider community safe. The consequences of them not doing so can have not only tragic consequence for individual employees but also potentially devastating and sometimes fatal effects on the health of vast numbers of people in areas surrounding a factory where a chemical accident occurs.

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