Chemical Safety: Types, Hazards, and Control Measures

Types Of Chemicals

Chemical safety is the study of the risks posed by chemicals and the ways to minimize those risks. It encompasses a wide range of topics, from the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace to the environmental effects of chemical production and use.

The field of chemical safety is constantly evolving as new chemicals are developed and our understanding of the risks they pose grows. It is important for everyone who works with or comes in contact with chemicals to stay up to date on the latest safety information.

There are a number of resources available to help you do this, including:

Each of these organizations has developed guidelines and resources to help stay safe when working with or around chemicals.

In this blog post, we will focus on the different types of hazards posed by chemicals and some of the common control measures used to minimize those risks.

Importance Of Chemical Safety

Chemicals are an integral part of our everyday lives. They are used in various industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to healthcare.

While chemicals can be extremely useful, they can also pose a number of risks to both people and the environment. It is important to understand these risks and take steps to minimize them.

Chemical safety is important for a number of reasons:

  • Chemicals can be dangerous.
  • There is a growing body of evidence linking chemical exposure to a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption.
  • The use of chemicals is widespread and growing. According to the EPA, over 9 billion pounds of chemicals are produced or imported into the United States each year.
  • Chemical accidents can have a devastating impact on people, the environment, and the economy.
  • Prevention is the best way to protect people and the environment from chemical accidents and exposures.

Routes of Chemical Exposure

There are four main ways that people can be exposed to chemicals:

1. Inhalation

Inhalation is the most common route of exposure, as it only takes a small amount of a chemical vapor or aerosable mist to enter the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream.

2. Ingestion

Ingestion can occur if chemicals are present in food or water. It can also occur if someone swallows a chemical, such as a cleaning product or pesticide.

3. Absorption through the skin

Absorption through the skin is a less common but still possible route of exposure. This can happen if someone comes into contact with a liquid chemical or if they are exposed to a chemical vapor or dust.

4. Injection

The injection can occur if someone is exposed to a needle contaminated with a chemical or if they are accidentally injected with a chemical during a medical procedure.

Types Of Chemicals

Types Of Chemical Hazards & Control Measures

A chemical hazard is any substance that has the potential to cause harm to people or the environment. This includes chemicals known to be dangerous and those that may not have been fully tested for workplace safety.

There are a variety of ways that chemicals can be hazardous. They may be:

1. Toxic

There are many different types of toxic chemicals, and they can be found in a variety of products and materials. Some toxic chemicals are naturally occurring, while others are man-made.

Toxic chemicals can enter the body through the skin, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract. They can also be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Once in the body, toxic chemicals can cause a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, neurological disorders, and other illnesses.

There are a number of ways to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. You can choose products that do not contain toxic chemicals or use safe alternative products. You can also take steps to reduce your exposure when using products that contain toxic chemicals.

Toxic chemicals are found in many everyday products, including:

  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • Building materials
  • Furniture
  • Car interiors
  • Clothing
  • Toys
  • Electronics

Some of the most common toxic chemicals include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Chlorinated solvents
  • Dioxins and furans
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Pesticides
  • Toluene

You can reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals by taking the following steps:

  • Read labels and choose products that do not contain toxic chemicals.
  • Use safe alternatives to products that contain toxic chemicals.
  • Avoid using products that release toxic chemicals into the air, such as aerosols or aerosol-based cleaners.
  • Ventilate areas where you are using products that release toxic chemicals into the air.
  • Wash your hands after using products that contain toxic chemicals.
  • Do not allow children to play with or use products that contain toxic chemicals.
  • Dispose of products that contain toxic chemicals properly.

Keep track of the products you use that contain toxic chemicals and the amount of time you spend using them. This information can help your healthcare provider if you experience health problems.

2. Corrosives

Corrosives are substances that can cause damage to living tissue, metal, or other materials on contact. Some corrosives are strong acids or bases, while others are irritants that damage tissue without being chemically reactive. Regardless of their chemical makeup, all corrosives can seriously threaten worker health and safety.

There are four main types of corrosive chemicals:

  • Acids,
  • Bases,
  • Oxidizing agents, and
  • Reducing agents.

Acids are substances that release hydrogen ions (H+) when dissolved in water. Common examples of acids include hydrochloric acid (HCl), sulfuric acid (H2SO4), and nitric acid (HNO3). Bases are substances that release hydroxide ions (OH-) when dissolved in water. Common examples of bases include sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH).

Oxidizing agents are substances that cause other substances to oxidize or lose electrons. Common examples of oxidizing agents include chlorine (Cl2), oxygen (O2), and nitric acid (HNO3). Reducing agents are substances that cause other substances to reduce, or gain electrons. Common examples of reducing agents include hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Corrosives can cause a variety of health effects, depending on the type of chemical involved and the extent of exposure. Acids can cause burns to the skin and eyes, while bases can cause chemical burns and irritation. Oxidizing agents can cause respiratory irritation and burning while reducing agents can cause asphyxiation.

Corrosives Chemical Examples

  • Sulfuric acid
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Nitric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Chlorine
  • Oxygen
  • Hydrogen
  • Carbon monoxide

In order to protect workers from the dangers of corrosive chemicals, it is important to have proper control measures in place. Some of the most effective control measures include:

  • Providing adequate ventilation
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and respirators
  • Posting warning signs and labels in areas where corrosives are present
  • Training workers on the proper handling and storage of corrosive chemicals
  • Conducting regular air quality testing

By taking these precautions, employers can help to ensure that their workers are safe from the dangers of corrosive chemicals.

3. Oxidizers

Oxidizers are substances that can cause or contribute to the combustion of other materials. Many common chemicals, such as oxygen, chlorine, and nitric acid, are oxidizers. While oxidizers themselves may not be combustible, they can support the combustion of other materials.

There are several ways to control the hazards posed by oxidizers. One is to substitute a less reactive substance for the more dangerous one. Another is to use engineering controls to limit exposure, such as ventilation systems that remove oxidizing gases from the air. Administrative controls, such as work practices and procedures, can also be effective in reducing exposure to oxidizing materials. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respirators and protective clothing, should be used when exposure to oxidizers cannot be controlled by other means.

Oxidizers Chemicals Examples

  • Oxygen
  • Chlorine
  • Nitric acid

If you work with or around oxidizing materials, it is important to be aware of the hazards they pose and the controls that are available to minimize exposure. By understanding and following these safety measures, you can help prevent accidents and injuries associated with these dangerous chemicals.

4. Water Reactive Substances

Water-reactive substances are materials that react violently with water. These reactions can generate large amounts of heat, steam, and explosive gases. Common examples of water-reactive substances include sodium metal, potassium metal, and magnesium metal.

When working with water-reactive substances, it is important to take precautions to prevent accidents and injuries. Some basic safety measures include:

  • Using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and face shields
  • Storing water-reactive substances in closed containers
  • Avoiding contact with water
  • Working in a well-ventilated area
  • Training workers on the proper handling of these materials

By following these safety measures, employers can help to ensure that their workers are safe when working with water-reactive substances.

5. Pyrophoric

Pyrophoric chemicals are materials that spontaneously ignite in air at or below 55 °C (130 °F). These substances are extremely reactive and can pose a serious fire hazard.

There are several measures that can be taken to control the risk posed by pyrophoric chemicals:

  • Store these materials in well-ventilated, fire-resistant cabinets or rooms
  • Keep them away from sources of ignition, such as open flames, sparks, and heat
  • Do not handle them while smoking or using any other type of open flame
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment when working with these substances
  • Train personnel in the proper handling and storage of pyrophoric chemicals
  • Keep a fire extinguisher readily available in the event of a fire

Pyrophoric Chemicals Examples

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Titanium
  • Zirconium

When working with pyrophoric chemicals, it is important to always exercise caution and follow all safety protocols. These materials can pose a serious hazard if not handled properly.

Chemicals Safety

6. Irritant

Irritant chemicals are substances that cause inflammation of the skin, eyes, or respiratory tract. These materials can be either acidic or basic (alkaline). Common examples of irritants include chlorine, ammonia, and sulfuric acid.

Exposure to irritants can cause a variety of symptoms, including skin and eye irritation, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, exposure to irritants can lead to chemical burns, respiratory distress, and even death.

There are several ways to control the hazards posed by irritant chemicals:

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and respirators
  • Avoid skin and eye contact with the substance
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Keep the substance away from food and drink
  • Follow all safety protocols when handling, using, and storing these materials

Irritant Chemicals Examples

  • Chlorine
  • Ammonia
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Nitric acid

If you work with irritant chemicals, it is important to be aware of the hazards they pose and take steps to protect yourself. By following proper safety procedures, you can help prevent accidents and injuries associated with these dangerous materials.

7. Flammable

Flammable chemicals are substances that catch fire and burn easily. These materials can be either liquids, solids, or gases. Common examples of flammable chemicals include gasoline, ethanol, and acetone.

Flammable Chemicals Examples

  • Gasoline
  • Ethanol
  • Acetone
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • Methanol

Flammable materials pose a serious fire hazard and should be handled with caution. Some basic safety measures include:

  • Storing flammable liquids in closed containers
  • Keeping flammable materials away from heat sources
  • Using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling these substances
  • Working in a well-ventilated area
  • Training workers on the proper handling and storage of flammable chemicals

By following these safety measures, employers can help to ensure that their workers are safe when working with these dangerous materials.

8. Harmful Chemicals

Harmful chemicals are substances that can cause death, illness, or injury if they are inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. These materials can be either liquids, solids, or gases. Common examples of harmful chemicals include carbon monoxide, asbestos, and lead.

Exposure to harmful chemicals can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the substance and the amount of exposure. Some common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, exposure to harmful chemicals can lead to death.

There are several ways to control the hazards posed by harmful chemicals:

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and respirators
  • Avoid skin and eye contact with the substance
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Keep the substance away from food and drink
  • Follow all safety protocols when handling, using, and storing these materials

If you work with harmful chemicals, it is important to be aware of the hazards they pose and take steps to protect yourself. By following proper safety procedures, you can help prevent accidents and injuries associated with these dangerous materials.

8. Asphyxiants

Asphyxiants are chemicals that can cause asphyxiation, or suffocation. They work by displacing oxygen in the air and can be found in a variety of settings and products. Some common examples of asphyxiants include:

  • Anesthetics: Ether, chloroform
  • Lacquer thinners: Toluene, xylene
  • Paint strippers: Methylene chloride
  • Refrigerants: Fluorinated hydrocarbons
  • Solvents: Carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene

If you are working with any of these chemicals, it is important to be aware of the risks and take precautions to avoid asphyxiation. Symptoms of asphyxiation include lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, and loss of consciousness. If you or someone you are with experiences these symptoms, move to fresh air immediately and call 911.

9. Carcinogens

Carcinogens are chemicals that can cause cancer. These materials can be either liquids, solids, or gases. Common examples of carcinogens include asbestos, arsenic, and benzene.

Carcinogens are classified into two categories: known and probable. Known carcinogens are chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Probable carcinogens are chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer in animals but have not yet been proven to cause cancer in humans.

Workers who are exposed to carcinogens are at an increased risk of developing cancer. To help protect workers from this hazard, employers should take steps to control exposure to these materials. Some basic safety measures include:

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Avoid skin and eye contact with the substance
  • Follow all safety protocols when handling, using, and storing these materials

By following these safety measures, employers can help to reduce the risk of cancer in workers who are exposed to carcinogens.

10. Mutagens

Mutagens are chemicals that can cause genetic mutations. These materials can be either liquids, solids, or gases. Common examples of mutagens include:

  • Chemicals: ethidium bromide, bleomycin
  • Radiation: ultraviolet light, x-rays

Mutagens can cause a variety of health effects, including birth defects, cancer, and infertility. Exposure to mutagens can occur in a variety of settings, including workplaces, medical facilities, and homes.

There are several ways to protect yourself from exposure to mutagens:

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Avoid skin and eye contact with the substance
  • Follow all safety protocols when handling, using, and storing these materials

If you are exposed to a mutagen, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Mutagens can have serious health effects, so getting treated as soon as possible is important.

Chemical Safety Toolbox Talks

Chemical Safety Toolbox Talk

When working with chemicals, it is important to be aware of their hazards and take steps to protect yourself. By following proper safety procedures, you can help prevent accidents and injuries associated with these dangerous materials.

Here are some tips for working safely with chemicals:

1. Read the label

Before using any chemical product, always read the label. The label will provide important information about the hazards of the product and how to use it safely.

2. Know the risks

Be aware of the hazards posed by the chemicals you are using. Some chemicals may be corrosive, flammable, or toxic. Others may be asphyxiants or carcinogens.

3. Use the proper PPE

Always use the personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for the job. This may include gloves, safety glasses, or a respirator.

4. Work in a well-ventilated area

Make sure there is plenty of ventilation when using chemicals. This will help to prevent exposure to harmful fumes or vapors.

5. Follow all safety protocols

Be sure to follow all safety procedures when working with chemicals. This includes proper storage and disposal of these materials.

6. Seek medical attention if necessary

If you are exposed to a chemical, seek medical attention immediately. Some chemicals can cause serious health effects if not treated promptly.

By following these tips, you can help create a safe work environment and protect yourself from the hazards posed by chemicals.

Hierarchy Of Control Measures For Chemical Hazards

There are a variety of control measures that can be used to control chemical hazards in the workplace. The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard at the source. If that is not possible, then the next best option is to use engineering controls to remove the hazard from the work environment.

If engineering controls are not possible or practical, then work practices and administrative controls can be used to minimize exposure to the hazard. Finally, if all other control measures are not possible or practical, then personal protective equipment (PPE) can be used to protect workers from exposure to the hazard.

The hierarchy of control measures for chemical hazards is as follows:

  1. Elimination
  2. Engineering controls
  3. Work practices and administrative controls
  4. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Elimination is the best method of controlling a chemical hazard. This involves removing the hazard at the source. For example, if a hazardous chemical is being used in a process, it can be replaced with a less hazardous chemical.

Engineering controls are the second-best method of controlling chemical hazards. This involves using equipment and devices to remove the hazard from the work environment. For example, ventilation can be used to remove hazardous chemicals from the air.

Work practices and administrative controls are the third-best methods of controlling chemical hazards. This involves changing the way work is done to minimize exposure to the hazard. For example, workers can be trained on how to safely work with hazardous chemicals.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last resort for controlling chemical hazards. This involves using clothing and devices to protect workers from exposure to hazards. For example, gloves can be worn to protect hands from contact with a hazardous chemical.

Eight Tips for Chemical Safety

Chemical hygiene plans are written documents that outline the hazards present in a laboratory and explain the processes, protocols, tools, and equipment that are available to help workers guard against those hazards. Like many safety plans, chemical hygiene plans are living documents that need to be reviewed and updated often.

Although plans are often specific to each laboratory, its chemicals, and its processes, OSHA does specify certain elements that must be contained within the plan. The following tips can help minimize chemical exposure in laboratories, round out a chemical hygiene plan, and promote worker safety.

Use General SOPs

Each chemical has a unique set of hazards and needs to be handled properly to ensure worker safety. However, for laboratories that handle a wide variety of chemicals, establishing a separate protocol for each chemical complicates training and increases the likelihood of mishandling and exposure.

A standard operating procedure (SOP) that addresses the use of correct personal protective equipment, safe handling, safe use, and proper disposal can cover all chemicals in a laboratory. Flip charts, signs, or other literature can then be used to remind workers of specific chemical hazards.

Air Flow

Air quality can quickly become compromised in laboratories, making ventilation an important factor in minimizing exposure. When determining whether the local exhaust system is adequate, a good rule of thumb is that the system should be capable of at least eight to 10 air changeouts per hour when space is occupied.

In addition to the general exhaust system for the laboratory, exhaust hoods are another tool to increase safety. The National Research Council’s Prudent Practices for Handling Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories recommends “2.5 linear feet of hood space per person should be provided for every 2 workers if they spend most of their time working with chemicals. Each hood should have a continuous monitoring device to allow convenient confirmation of adequate hood performance before use.”

Housekeeping

Keeping floors clean and dry will help prevent slip and fall injuries — the third-leading cause of worker injury and lost work time. Stocking absorbent mat pads and wipers in spill-prone locations helps employees clean up spills quickly, reducing the chance of a slip-and-fall incident and minimizing exposure. Providing a proper receptacle for spent cleanup materials also helps to minimize exposure.

Cleaning work surfaces throughout the day keeps workspaces uncluttered, decreasing the likelihood of reactions and spills due to counter space being overcrowded. Likewise, storing excess chemicals on countertops should be discouraged so workers will have adequate space to perform their duties properly.

Waste disposal procedures should also be established, with wastes being removed from labs to a central storage area on a regular basis. Workers should be taught not to pour liquids down drains or use hoods to get rid of volatile chemicals.

Eight Tips for Chemical Safety  Everything You Need To Know

Storeroom Safety

A well-organized stockroom promotes safety and is more efficient. Putting one person in charge of the stockroom can help to facilitate proper organization and storage within the area. This person may also help ensure that proper inventory levels are kept, duplicate orders aren’t placed, and expired chemicals are disposed of properly.

Even when storage space is at a premium, segregating incompatible chemicals in storerooms and providing containment for shelves are both important factors for worker safety.

Establish a plan for new chemicals. Before a chemical enters a lab, have a plan for properly handling, storing, and disposing of it.

Tools

Using damaged glassware can be just as dangerous as using the wrong chemicals. A hairline crack doesn’t take much to fail and create a spill. Using containment trays will help to control the mess, but avoiding it in the first place helps save time and money and minimizes exposure.

Checking glassware and equipment prior to each use should be part of the SOP. Workers also should know how to properly handle, tag, or discard of any article that is damaged so it is not reused or put back into service until it has been repaired

Spill Response

Even seasoned technicians can spill chemicals occasionally, so it’s important to know how to properly handle spilled chemicals. Spill response plans should address spill prevention strategies, containment procedures, proper ventilation, when to evacuate, how to obtain medical care, and reporting requirements. Regular drills will help to reinforce the details of response plans.

Having a spill kit readily available in each laboratory helps trained workers contain and control a spill quickly, further helping to minimize exposure.

Safety Equipment

Signs and container labels reinforce safety and serve as a constant reminder of specific handling, use, and disposal procedures. It is equally important to properly maintain eyewash stations, drench showers, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits so that workers who are exposed to chemicals can quickly access these tools in an emergency to lessen the effects of their exposure.

Training

A chemical hygiene plan and ensuring workers understand the plan and how it helps them avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals are essential requirements of OSHA’s laboratory standard.

Training is required for all workers prior to their assignment in a laboratory, but education should not stop there. An annual presentation may not be enough to reinforce safety; training should be a regular activity that addresses the many different aspects of avoiding exposure.

Workers should know:

  • the location of the chemical hygiene plan
  • the location of MSDS and other educational literature
  • how personal protective equipment is selected, its location, how to use each piece properly, and how to determine when it needs to be replaced
  • the hazards presented by each chemical and procedure in the laboratory
  • how to handle chemicals properly to avoid exposure
  • how to label containers correctly
  • proper laboratory hygiene and conduct, such as never eating, drinking, or chewing gum in a laboratory; confining loose hair and clothing; and avoiding horseplay and practical jokes
  • how to use the “buddy system” to avoid working alone
  • how to evaluate the procedure or process they’ll be performing so that they take only the amount of chemicals necessary for the job they’re doing
  • how to handle waste materials

Although each laboratory has unique challenges, addressing known hazards and planning for anticipated ones will help minimize chemical exposure and ensure a safer workplace for everyone.

Conclusion

There are a variety of chemical hazards that can be found in the workplace. These hazards can cause a variety of health effects, including cancer, birth defects, and infertility. Employers must take steps to protect workers from exposure to these hazards.

The most effective way to control a chemical hazard is to eliminate it at the source. If that is not possible, then the next best option is to use engineering controls. If engineering controls are not possible or practical, then work practices and administrative controls can be used. Finally, if all other control measures are not possible or practical, then personal protective equipment can be used.

Thank you for reading. I hope this article was helpful.

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