What workers and employers need to know about Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances

Many US workers are currently exposed to hazardous chemical compounds in their workplace. Therefore, they need to know how to work with such dangerous substances. If you want to know how to store and handle Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances as an employer or employee in the workplace, follow the next paragraphs.

What is considered a chemical hazard?

Any chemical in the form of gas, liquid, or solid that can be harmful to health is called “Chemical Hazards” or “Toxic Substances”.

Routes of exposure to these substances are:

  • Inhalation
  • Dermal absorption
  • Ingestion


Chemical hazards are divided into two categories: health hazards and physicochemical hazards.

Health hazards:Exposure to these substances leads to harmful effects on health. Some of the acute health effects are:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Respiratory irritations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Chronic health effects include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Organ damage


Physicochemical hazards:These hazards include chemical explosions, fires, and chemical corrosion that can harm people, the environment, and property. These hazards occur due to the physical properties of the materials and the way they are handled and stored.

Hazmat Physical exam is for workers who exposure to chemicals and toxic substances. These examinations include tests such as Chest X-ray, pulmonary function tests, and auditory tests. These tests are performed annually to avoid harmful effects as much as possible.


What is an example of a chemical hazard?

Some of the most common hazardous chemicals in the workplace are:

  • Acids
  • Caustic substances
  • Cleaning products such as disinfectants and chlorine bleach
  • Glues
  • Heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium, and aluminum
  • Paint
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum products
  • Solvents

Controlling chemical hazards in the workplace

The best way to control chemicals in the workplace is to have a clear and consistent chemical management procedure. To have such a procedure in the workplace, you should pay attention to the following four basic things:

  • Identify: First, you need to know what chemicals you work with in your workplace and their effects on your health, and the physiochemical hazards?
  • Assess: You need to think about how chemicals are received, dispensed, used, and stored. You also need to anticipate what dangerous accidents and events may occur and the possible consequences.
  • Control: You need to make changes compatible with the type of chemical and the workplace to eliminate or minimize exposure to the hazard.
  • Sustain: You must have a system in the workplace to review control measures; also, identify and assess new chemical compounds that are introduced.


Training programs to increase employee awareness

Remember that you, as an employee, have the right to have enough information about the following items:

  • How to work safely with hazardous chemical
  • How to protect yourself
  • How to identify hazardous chemicals
  • Where hazardous chemicals are located
  • The health harms of chemicals in your workplace

Besides, both the employer and the employee must get adequate training to:

  • Be able to identify chemical hazards in the workplace.
  • Conduct appropriate protective measures

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) provides up-to-date information on toxic substance hazards in the workplace as well as protective measures. So you can consider it as a reliable source.

If you, as an employer, intend to train your employees on chemical hazards and toxic substances in the workplace, you must consider the parameters introduced by OSHA:

  • Training should be effective so that the employee can acquire the knowledge needed to perform their daily tasks at work.
  • The information provided should be specific to the workplace and not limited to general hazards.
  • Training must be provided before the employee starts work.
  • Training should be updated based on the new hazardous chemicals that have been introduced into the workplace. In other words, no worker should encounter unknown substances.
  • Labels and material safety data sheets must always be available to employees at all times.


Adequate ventilation: Whenever working with toxic material

Proper ventilation is one of the most common ways to control toxins in the workplace. Well-maintained ventilation systems help remove toxic vapors, fumes, mists, or airborne dust. The following should be considered when using ventilation:

  • The physical state of the toxic substances
  • Chemical properties
  • Toxicity (for example, LD50, LC50)
  • Potential routes of exposure
  • Possible health effects (such as skin irritation)
  • Frequency of use


How to store hazardous chemicals?

Remember that only trained and authorized people can store toxic substances. The storage area should be distinguished with warning signs and clear of obstructions.

The following tips should be considered when storing toxic substances:

  • Store toxic substances in small quantities as much as possible
  • Check containers containing toxic substances regularly for leaks, shelf life, and any other defects.
  • Place the containers at the right height.
  • Store materials at the temperature recommended by the chemical manufacturer
  • Make sure that the storage area is well ventilated and away from sunlight.
  • Chemicals should be kept away from the processing & handling area, eating areas, and protective equipment storage. Because in case of accidents such as fire, other areas will be less damaged.
  • The storage area must be fire-resistant and made of non-combustible materials.
  • Emergency eyewash/shower stations should be near storage areas and regularly tested to ensure proper function.


How to work safely with hazardous chemicals

If you have to work with hazardous materials in your workplace, you must first obtain the necessary training. Remember that if you are unsure or have questions about working with toxic substances, contact your supervisor immediately.

You should receive the necessary training based on the work condition and the type of toxic substances you are exposed to. But here are some general helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Always use the least amount of toxic substances.
  • Avoid releasing toxic vapor, fumes, gases, or dust into the air in the workplace.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment while working with toxic substances.
  • Tell any signs of illness or overexposure immediately to your supervisor.
  • Be aware of the early signs of poisoning and learn the first aid needed.
  • All containers must be labeled properly. Also, inspect containers for leaks or damage before handling them.
  • Keep containers tightly closed when not in use.
  • Appropriate emergency equipment should always be available.
  • Use the proper tools to open containers and transfer materials.
  • Always keep surfaces clean.


Let’s sum up …

As you know, in many cases, you can not avoid exposure to chemical hazards and toxic substances in the workplace. But there are very effective and simple measures that will keep you safe from many hazards.  Always keep in mind that to reduce these risks, both the employer and the employee must take steps in parallel. Having a safe workplace is your right.

The Southern Nevada Occupational Health Center in Las Vegas, with more than 15 years of experience and expert staff, strives to provide a safer work environment for you. For more information about chemical hazards and toxic substances in your workplace, please consult with your supervisor or contact a SNOHC team member.

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