While it’s commonplace to work with chemicals, it’s easy for tasks involving them to become mundane. That’s when accidents happen. How many employees know their company’s chemical safety protocols, where the SDS for their common chemical is, and what to do in case of an exposure to a hazardous chemical? Workers might know what to do with a chemical for their ordinary work, but they might not fully understand the risks of an accident with that same material.
Expose the Problem
Workplace chemicals can range from etching acids to common cleaning products. The wide variety of materials is matched by the variety in their hazards. Some are dangerous if ingested, while others can be absorbed through the skin. Common chemical exposures in the workplace can cause minor problems such as headaches, dizziness, or vomiting. Some of the same materials, with repeated exposures over time, can also cause cancers, nerve damage, and other serious health problems. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths each year are related to chemical exposures.
Some of these fatalities come from unexpected sources. Last year, a worker handling liquid nitrogen died from asphyxiation as the material displaced oxygen in the work area. Workers filling containers and cryogenic freezers did not know the potential hazards of the gas. They also did not know what to do for gas detection and release, OSHA said.
“This employer failed to take necessary steps to protect employees from a potentially oxygen-deficient atmosphere,” said Sheila Stanley of OSHA in South Dakota. “Employers must assess their workplaces for potential hazards and implement control measures to prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.”
Assessing and managing the risks of workplace chemicals is part of OSHA’s recommended practices for health and safety programs. These processes investigate the chemicals in use at the facility, and describe the physical and health hazards of those chemicals in HazCom training.
Building an effective HazCom program is an important step. Maintaining it is even more crucial. How can workplaces improve chemical safety? When it comes to chemicals, safety is beyond compliance. Management should ensure these activities are complete after a chemical assessment for hazard control:
- Swap Out: Not only are some chemicals safer, but they can also be cheaper. Safer chemicals reduce future risks. They also can improve performance, boost competitiveness, and be part of a company’s stewardship.
- Maintain SDS: Safety Data Sheets contain information on each chemical’s hazards, the appropriate precautions to take, and other details. Use SDS info for chemical container labels.
- Storage: Proper chemical storage is necessary for safety. Some chemicals are temperature sensitive, and some should not be stored near other types of chemicals. Keep storage areas neat, organized, clean, and well-lit.
- Identification: OSHA requires that employers clearly label containers of hazardous chemicals under their Hazard Communication Standard, or HazCom. In addition to these container labels, signage may be needed for chemical storage areas, restricted areas, and process instructions. Information on labels should align with the material’s SDS.
- PPE: Make sure PPE matches the situation where it will be used, and fits the person assigned to use it. Train affected workers on how to put on and take off protective clothing safely.
- Emergency Planning: Keep eyewash stations clean and in working order. Post contact info and emergency protocol instructions near emergency kits and fire equipment. Keep spill kits and stations stocked and ready for use.
- Training: Workers and management need to be on the same page for a thorough and adequate chemical safety program. Training isn’t a one-time event. Keep workers abreast of any chemical hazards, changes to chemicals, and best practices. Share videos, infographics, and other resources to help workers thoroughly understand safety and compliance.
Workplaces can maximize safety and efficiency for improved chemical management beyond these several tips. However, a plan will only work with consistent effort and routine execution behind it.
Action, Not Reaction
This year, one of safety expert Anna Lynn’s goals is to make sure workers in her Texas facility understand hazardous materials better. Her advice to other facility managers: “Teach a hazardous materials storage seminar. Make part of it a hands-on inspection, where offending chemicals are brought to a designated area.”
Lynn said that workers would then answer what to do, point out potential problems, and provide at least one solution. They also demonstrate knowledge of SDS info and chemical labeling.
Communication is the crux for chemical safety programs, including labeling, which has specific challenges such as space constraints, language requirements, and durability against wear and exposure. It’s crucial to warn people of present or potential chemical hazards to prevent injuries, accidents, property damage, and more. For more than 50 years, Graphic Products has helped global industries, including chemical labs and processing, reduce labeling complexities. DuraLabel printers and supplies can simplify the process to overcome chemical labeling compliance, safety, and more. Create labels and signs using preprogrammed templates, or custom design what you need with unique, site-specific information.