Setting up safety rules around chemicals

Keeping workers safe around dangerous chemicals is a one way to reduce the potential risk of workers compensation claims, as many substances that factory employees work with can present dangers to those who are uninitiated in the right precautions.

The first step to staying safe is being aware of the potential certain chemicals have to be dangerous. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps an updated list of all the known dangerous chemicals. The database contains information about a chemical’s reactivity with water and air, along with other chemicals that it may come into contact with. Some chemicals can be explosive. The most notorious example is probably pure sodium’s reaction to water; it can even react to the water vapor in the air.

Worker education
Employers may want to educate workers about how each of the chemicals looks and smells, along with its solubility in water, its evaporation rate and the potential it has of causing an explosion. Importantly, if a chemical has a low auto-ignition temperature, workers should be made aware of this.

Education of workers also should cover the lethal dose of various chemicals, along with the lethal concentration.

Those who work with chemicals may want to stay as updated about current safety issues as possible. Employers may want to schedule safety personnel to spend time mentoring workers about using safety goggles when necessary and being careful with large chemical containers that can tip over and cause an impact injury.

Best practices from the American Chemical Society (ACS) state that employees should be aware of all the locations of safety devices, such as fire extinguishers and safety showers. Additionally, a heightened awareness of safety would be ideal, with more experienced workers encouraging co-workers to be cautious around dangerous locations.

Other concerns including keeping chemical containers stored at temperatures appropriate to the individual substances, as well as protected from natural disasters such as flooding or earthquakes. Smoking should be banned anywhere chemicals could react to the fire or smoke.

Personal Hygiene, Respirators and Chemical Spills
The ACS recommends workers practice safe personal hygiene. For example, employees should wash their hands and arms even if they wore gloves when working with or handling chemicals. Applying cosmetics may inadvertently expose skin to chemicals. Smelling chemicals directly also is dangerous; reading the label should identify the level of danger. Additionally, employers may want to caution workers to avoid working alone with chemicals.

Respirators are assigned to workers individually. Proper training about function and use will help employees use respirators optimally in chemical work environments.

Safety experts recommend that chemicals should be cleaned up immediately if they spill, following the procedures for that specific substance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines safe handling of chemicals in its Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals; employers are required also to have this information onsite in a set of Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

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