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Chemical Safety and Substances Hazardous to Health

What Substances are Harmful?

Introduction

Hazardous substances are all around us and I many forms.  We traditionally think of hazardous substances as being in certain cleaning products and in laboratory chemicals.  But these are only some of the places hazardous substances present themselves.  Other forms include fumes e.g. From welding; dusts e.g. When sanding wood; spores e.g. From moulds; microbes (bacteria and viruses) e.g. Bacteria (legionella) growing in water systems.

Examples include:

Hazardous substances are all around us and I many forms.  We traditionally think of hazardous substances as being in certain cleaning products and in laboratory chemicals.  But these are only some of the places hazardous substances present themselves.  Other forms include fumes e.g. From welding; dusts e.g. When sanding wood; spores e.g. From moulds; microbes (bacteria and viruses) e.g. Bacteria (legionella) growing in water systems.

Examples include:

  • Dusty or fume-laden air can cause lung diseases, e.g. in welders or woodworkers.
  • Metalworking fluids can grow bacteria and fungi which cause dermatitis and asthma.
  • Wet working, e.g. catering and cleaning, can cause dermatitis.
  • Many other products or substances used at work can be harmful, such as paint, ink, glue, lubricant, detergent and beauty products.

Hazardous Substance Myth
‘Of course it’s safe – we’ve always done it this way’- but remember some diseases take years to develop.
If an exposure is high because the task has always been done a certain way then it is time to change the process.

Working with substances hazardous to health

III health caused by these substances used at work is preventable. Many substances can harm health but, used properly, they almost never do.
Substances can also have other dangerous properties. They may be flammable, for example solvent-based products may give off flammable vapour.
The summary of safe handling of substances is outlined below.

1.    Look at each substance:  Which substances are involved? In what way are they harmful? You can find out by:

  • Checking information that came with the product, e.g. a safety data sheet.
  • Checking on the Internet, e.g. HSE’s website pages of for organisations that provide in line safety data sheets.

2.    Think about the task:  If the substance is harmful, how might workers be exposed?

  • Breathing in gases, fumes, mist or dust? Once breathed in, some substances can attack the nose, throat or lungs while others get into the body through the lungs and harm other parts of the body, e.g. the liver.
  • Contact with the skin? Some substances damage skin, while others pass through it and damage other parts of the body. Skin gets contaminated:
    o By direct contact with the substance, e.g. if you touch it or dip your hands in it;
    o By splashing;
    o By substances landing on the skin, e.g. airborne dust;
    o By contact with contaminated surfaces – this includes contact with contamination inside protective gloves.
  • Swallowing? People transfer chemicals from their hands to their mouths by eating, smoking etc without washing first.
  • Contact with the eyes? Some vapours, gases and dusts are irritating to eyes. Caustic fluid splashes can damage eyesight permanently.

3.    Completing appropriate risk assessment.

Chemical safety in Laboratories

The basis of control of laboratory control of chemicals is via the “COSHH Based Risk Assessment in Laboratories

There is training course [create link to training page] where you can book the COSHH Based Risk Assessment in Laboratories course.  The course covers.

  • The identification of laboratory hazards; and the hazards that require a COSHH assessment.
  • The use of COSHH and related regulations in managing chemical risk.
  • How to complete a COSHH Based Risk Assessment for an experimental process.
  • How to review a COSHH Risk Assessment
  • The controls required when handling liquid nitrogen and other potential asphyxiants.

To help understand chemical labels and classification, a simple table of common laboratory chemical is available via the link.

 

Chemical and Hazardous Substances Safety in areas other than laboratories e.g. workshops, kitchens, etc.

  • This simple checklist will help you complete a risk assessment for the material or process.
  • Does any product you use have a danger label?
  • Does your process produce gas, fume, dust, mist or vapour?
  • Is the substance harmful to breathe in? Can the substance harm your skin?
  • Is it likely that harm could arise because of the way you use or produce it?
  • What are you going to do about it?
    o Use something else?
    o Use it in another, safer way?
    o Control it to stop harm being caused?

Examples of substances and processes and appropriate control measures

Substance, process Control equipment Way of working Managing
  • Cleaning with solvent on rag.
  • Use a rag holder.
  • Provide a small bin with a lid for used rags.
  • Avoid skin contact.
  • Reduce solvent vapour from used rags.
  • Check controls are used.
  • Safe disposal.
  • Dust and sparks from abrasive wheel.
  • Put an enclosure around the wheel and extract the air to a safe place.
  • Check the airflow indicator.
  • Make sure the extraction works.
  • Maintain controls.
  • Test controls as required by law.
  • Fume from cutting demolition scrap.
  • Ventilated welding helmet, gloves.
  • Washing facilities.
  • Work outdoors upwind of the fume wherever possible.
  • Allow the fume to clear before removing helmet.
  • Check if there is any lead paint on the scrap being cut.
  • Carry out health checks.
  • Cutting-fluid mist from a lathe.
  • Swarf.
  • Put an enclosure around the lathe and extract the air to a safe place.
  • Protective gloves.
  • Use skin-care products.
  • Make sure the extraction works.
  • Allow time for the mist to clear from the enclosure before opening it.
  • Train workers.
  • Check and maintain fluid quality.
  • Test controls as required by law
  • Carry out health checks.
  • Dust from disc cutter on stone worktop
  • Use an enclosure to extract air to a safe place
  • High-efficiency vacuum cleaner.
  • Cut and polish worktops inside an enclosure.
  • Vacuum up dust.
  • Test and maintain controls.
  • Carry out health checks.

Emergency Response (phone 3333)

  • Need First aid section
  • Need spills and other emergency section

Specific Chemical Hazards and Process created Hazards e.g. dusts, fumes and moulds

Sources of information and The Legislation

Sources of information

Legislation

  • COSHH - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) – Control and assessment of hazardous substances including microorganisms (excludes lead and asbestos).
  • DSEAR - Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 – Controls flammable liquids and gases and controls to prevent an explosion.
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