WHY CHEMICAL SAFETY IS IMPORTANT
Why is chemical safety important? Hazardous or toxic chemicals are used in many industrial environments on a daily basis.
Although chemicals make up the world around us, some can be more harmful than others—This is just one reason why chemical safety is important.
Read on to learn how toxic chemicals can enter the body, how to identify hazards, some tips for using chemicals safely in the workplace and terms you should know.
WHY CHEMICAL SAFETY IS IMPORTANT | 4 TYPES OF EXPOSURE
There are four different ways chemicals can enter the body. These are:
- Inhalation: Chemicals that take form in gas, vapour or particulates are easily inhaled. These chemicals can absorb into the respiratory tract, and can head into the bloodstream and organs. This is often noted as the most common way the body absorbs harmful chemicals.
- Skin/Eye absorption: Chemical contact with skin can result in mild dermatitis, or a rash. However, chemicals can also be absorbed into the bloodstream this way. Eyes are also sensitive to most chemicals, so safety glasses must be worn when conducting work with chemicals. Another common scenario that causes eye contact to chemicals (especially if not wearing appropriate safety glasses) is wiping or rubbing at your eyes during chemical exposure.
- Ingestion: Like with inhalation or skin/eye absorption, ingestion can cause the toxic chemicals to travel to the organs. When conducting work in areas where ingestion is likely, like confined spaces, it’s important to have an entry & exit plan, and the proper PPE for the job.
- Injection: This doesn’t necessarily mean directly injecting chemicals into your bloodstream, but if you have a cut or other tear in the skin, chemicals can be absorbed this way.
Chemicals often travel to the respiratory system, but how? The respiratory system has two main parts. These are the upper & lower airway passages. The upper respiratory system consists of the nose, mouth, pharynx & larynx. The lower respiratory system consists of the vocal cords to the trachea, to the end of the bronchial tree.
It’s important to note that there are different factors that affect how the degree of hazard caused by the chemical. These are:
- How it enters the body
- How much enters the body
- How toxic the chemical is
- When/How it’s removed
- Biological variation
WHY CHEMICAL SAFETY IS IMPORTANT | IDENTIFYING HAZARDS
Obviously, chemical exposure in the workplace is unavoidable—But risks and hazards can be managed.
- Identify: Determine the chemicals in your workplace and safety hazards that go along with them. For example, if chlorine is used to clean, know that long-term exposure to chlorine can cause nausea & eye discomfort, and have eyewash stations in-place so employees can rinse their eyes if contact occurs.
- Assess: Take a look not just at hazardous chemicals in the workplace, but the processes that accompany them.
- Control: After hazards are identified, put controls in-place to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
WHY CHEMICAL SAFETY IS IMPORTANT | TERMS TO KNOW
ACUTE TOXICITY (SEE TOXICITY BELOW): Refers to exposure to chemicals that humans aren’t often around, or are in contact with due to an accident. For example, a leak at a plant could cause the locals to experience acute toxicity. Sometimes, effects are immediately felt, and in other cases effects can be delayed.
BIOLOGICAL VARIATION: Characteristics that might be unique to the individual, like weight, height or sex.
PARTICULATES: Solids or liquids that are dispersed as gas. Particulates can include dust, mist, fumes or other particles that are found in the space.
TOXICITY: The measure of how poisonous a chemical is. For example, a chemical with a lower toxicity will need a much higher amount to be harmful than a chemical with a high amount of poison or toxicity.
WORKPLACE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS INFORMATION SYSTEM (WHMIS): This is Canada’s national workplace hazard communication standard. This elements of WHMIS include hazard classification, cautionary labelling, availability of material safety data sheets and educational programs for employees.