by Dr. Isabel Perry, “The Safety Doctor”
Whether you work in an office, a shop, a kitchen or a
factory, you are working near chemical substances. In an office environment you may only be
exposed to cleaning materials or paints; factories and industrial facilities might
contain a variety of extremely dangerous materials which can be
life-threatening if mishandled.
Manufacturers of chemical materials are required to
determine the level of hazard for each product they sell. They must make this information known to
potential buyers and provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) detailing the
handling of these hazardous materials.
It is important to learn the specific safety requirements
for each chemical you handle. Know what
chemicals should not be mixed together or stored together (in case of
accident). Take special care to use the
appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever working with hazardous
What makes a chemical “hazardous”? A hazardous substance is any substance that
can cause harm to people or the environment. This includes materials that are:
Toxic – may cause sickness or death
Corrosive –cause irritation or burns to the skin
or eyes on contact
Flammable – catch fire easily
Reactive – could explode under certain
There are four ways that chemicals can cause harm:
– with skin or eyes
– in food or beverages or smoking materials that become contaminated in areas where chemicals are present
– by cutting or sticking yourself with a contaminated instrument
Protecting yourself should be your first priority. Learn all you can about the chemicals around
you. Read the MSDS and the label. Wear personal protective equipment. Follow any safety procedures your company has
in place. If you feel your company needs
additional measures, make recommendations.
Taking precautions and remaining alert are the best
preventatives against harm.
Here are some basic guidelines to follow anywhere:
Make sure that food, cigarettes and street
clothing are not left in the work area where they can become contaminated.
Is the correct type of fire equipment readily
available? (Check our article on Fire Safety)
Is there adequate ventilation?
Where are the emergency eyewash
kits kept, and where are the emergency showers?
Have items that burn, explode or react with
chemicals been removed?
Do you know who to contact in case of an
Do you know what to do in an emergency?
Do you have all the protective equipment you’ll
Does someone know where you are at all times and
what you are doing?
In case of an accident or spill:
Clean it up immediately
Make sure that you’re wearing the appropriate
personal protective equipment to do the cleanup.
Properly dispose of the cleanup and materials
used for clean up.
If you are overexposed to a chemical:
Let a supervisor know immediately
Get medical attention
If your skin has been exposed, wash the area
with water only for at least 15 solid minutes
If you have inhaled something, get fresh air
Be aware of the possible chemical hazards which exist in
your work area, and follow instructions for handling chemicals safely. Take responsibility for your health and
safety, and for the health and safety of your co-workers!
Dr. Isabel Perry is
an internationally-known safety expert, motivational speaker, author, and
safety educator. Based in
, she can be reached at 407-291-1209 or via e-mail at