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October 12, 2007
Safe Chemical Handling: Minimize the Potential for Accidents

Make sure everybody who gets anywhere near chemicals understands the hazards. Depending on the chemical and the amount, hazards can range from moderate to deadly. Your employees also need to realize that chemicals can be hazardous in different ways. They can be:

  • Corrosive (burn skin or eyes on contact)
  • Flammable or combustible (catch fire and burn)
  • Explosive (rapid expansion of gases)
  • Reactive (burn, explode, or release hazardous vapors on contact with air, water, or other chemicals)
  • Toxic (poisonous)

Teach workers to take the right steps before handling a chemical. Before handling any chemical, employees should:

  • Read the container label and material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the chemical and be sure about hazards and required safety precautions.
  • Assemble and inspect personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended by the label and MSDS.
  • Check for adequate ventilation.
  • Remove any items from the work area that could react with the chemical.
  • Know the location of fire extinguishers, alarms, first-aid kits, eyewash stations, emergency showers, and emergency exits.
  • Understand the organization's emergency procedures in the event of a chemical spill or other accidental release.
  • Why It Matters ...
    • The hazard communication standard requires you to inform employees about chemical hazards and precautions through mandated safety training.
    • OSHA also has specific standards for many hazardous chemicals and these regulations require strict adherence to safe chemical handling procedures.
    • Just one serious chemical release could injure or kill workers and cause extensive and costly damage to your workplace.
  • Know the symptoms of exposure and the appropriate first aid.
  • Have the proper training and approval from their supervisor to handle the particular chemical.

Follow up with training on safe procedures for working with chemicals--and after, too. When employees get down to work with chemicals, they need to take the following precautions:

  • Work carefully, anticipate anything that might go wrong, and have a plan for safely handling any problems that might occur.
  • Take only the amount of a chemical necessary for the job.
  • Make sure chemical containers are tightly closed when not in use.
  • Report any spills immediately and follow appropriate rules for activating cleanup procedures (for example, calling in an emergency response team for large spills).
  • Check with a supervisor immediately if they experience any problems they don't understand or can't handle.
  • Take immediate action in the event of any unprotected exposure (getting appropriate first aid, notifying a supervisor, and getting follow-up medical evaluation and treatment, if necessary).
  • Wash hands before taking breaks to eat, drink, or use the restroom.

After employees are finished working with chemicals they should:

  • Return chemical containers to designated storage areas.
  • Dispose of used chemicals properly according to facility rules and government regulations.
  • Remove contaminated protective clothing and PPE carefully to avoid skin contact with the chemical.
  • Wash thoroughly after removing PPE and work clothes.
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