The safe use of chemicals isn’t something that many workers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but in some industries, it is an everyday concern. Consider the number of chemicals that healthcare staff, manufacturing workers and even cleaners come into contact with regularly, and it may become clear that it’s a real priority in certain cases. Most chemicals, particularly those involved in cleaning, aren’t particularly dangerous, but can cause nasty rashes, whereas certain chemicals used incorrectly can be life threatening. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the main things that need to be considered when handling chemicals at work.
Firstly, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive publishes the COSHH laws, which refers to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. Anything to do with handling potentially dangerous chemicals at work comes under this law. Guidelines are extensive, so if you’re in any doubt, it’s these that you should consult, along with any instructions that come with the chemicals you’re using. However, there are some broad pieces of information that you can be aware of.
COSHH is all about controlling the exposure of people to harmful chemicals, and there are many ways to go about this. This includes using the proper equipment to do the job, having the correct processes in place, and ensuring that people follow those processes correctly. These are the three main elements to the safe handling, storage and disposal of chemicals. If you are dealing with chemicals, then bear these in mind.
Online COSHH training is a great way of being introduced to chemical handling best practices.Take a look at the Virtual College overview course here.
One of the main elements of COSHH is also what’s known as substitution. This is where you look to see if you can not use hazardous substances in the first place. In many instances this won’t be possible, but consider that many cleaning products could potentially be swapped for something non-hazardous, or less hazardous.
The safe handling of chemicals is a hugely broad subject, but there are a few different ways in which it can be achieved. The first is by using the right equipment. Often, this will mean wearing appropriate protective gear, such as gloves or masks. It may also mean using specialist tools and handling machinery. Processes are very important too – a risk assessment should be done to help in deciding how people can carry out the job safely, which minimises the contact between chemicals and a person. There are guidelines for handling certain types of chemicals, and all products will also come with suitable warnings on them, which will inform the way they should be used.
Storing chemicals safely is just as important as handling them correctly. Having a dedicated place in which they’re kept will be essential in many cases. Manufacturing facilities might have an entire room, whereas a cleaner might have a particular cupboard. Crucially dangerous chemicals should not be allowed to mix, and they need to be not at risk from spillage or damage, and need to be out of the way of any fire hazards. Security is important too – certain chemicals that are particularly dangerous should be kept under lock and key.
Hazardous waste regulations are separate to COSHH, and generally, businesses will need to have a dedicated place in which they store hazardous chemicals that are going to be disposed, because they must not be mixed. Dedicated disposal companies are usually brought in to remove chemicals so that they can be safely kept out of water systems or other areas in which they could pose a continued danger. Some council-run recycling centres do also have facilities for commercial chemical disposal, particularly for less dangerous ones such as cleaning products.
For more on health and safety at work, visit the Virtual College health and safety training section here, which includes a number of courses that deal with staying safe in the workplace.