Most manufacturing or industrial facilities use a variety of different types of chemicals in their day to day work. Whether it is used for cleaning, in the production of a product or anything else, these chemicals are essential to the success of most industries. While they are certainly important for business, they can also be extremely dangerous. In many cases, even a small amount of them coming in contact with human skin can cause severe damage very quickly. Understanding this risk, and taking steps to minimize this risk is essential for all facility managers.
Identifying the Risks of Chemicals in Your Facility
When working on improving chemical safety in a facility, the first thing to do is to identify all the chemicals that are used, and what risks are associated with them. Labeling these chemicals with GHS labels (example of GHS labels) will help communicate and identify the hazardous chemicals. Check out this Free GHS guide to get you started.
By inventorying all the different chemicals that are used, you can come up with an effective safety plan. It isn’t enough, however, to just know what chemical risks there are from the individual chemicals. You should also look at any potential risks during a chemical spill where two or more different chemicals are mixed together.
Looking at a worst case scenario, you can come up with all the potential risks in your facility, and make safety plans accordingly. The most common injury that occurs from chemical spills is when unprotected skin is exposed to the chemical. The result can be anything from minor irritation to severe burns or even worse. Once you know the risks associated with the chemicals in your facilities, it is time to look at what steps can be taken to improve the overall safety of the facility.
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Skin Protection in an Industrial Setting
If employees are working around chemicals, it is important that they know how to keep their skin protected from an accidental spill. Whether they are working directly with the chemical, or just in the same general area, it is important that they know what to do if they or someone else in the area have a chemical come in contact with their skin.
The first thing a facility should provide in areas where chemicals are used is an emergency washing station. These stations should be located close to where the chemicals are used, so employees have immediate access to them. In most cases, the wash station will have a faucet for water, as well as any cleaning agents required to neutralize the chemicals used in the area. In addition, they will often have an eye flushing station that will flush out any chemicals that may have gotten into an employees’ eyes.
These stations are often attached directly to the plumbing of the facility, but it is also possible to have stand alone stations if necessary. In addition to simply installing these emergency stations, facilities should also train employees (using training DVD’s like this) on how to properly wash any chemicals away, without resulting in further exposure to the chemical. For example, if someone’s hands are accidently doused with a harmful chemical, they should be trained to wash their hands letting the water drain down the fingertips, so the chemical isn’t spread onto their arms. Also, training them on which cleaning agents should be used for which types of chemical exposure is essential.
Skin Protective Clothing
Protective clothing is necessary whenever working with harmful chemicals. This clothing could be just a set of gloves to keep the hands safe, or a full set of head to toe coverings for more dangerous chemicals. According to ChemicalSpill.org,
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”ChemicalSpill.org” quotestyle=”style02″]Special protective clothing refers to clothing specially designed to protect against a specific hazard. Special protective clothing is classified into four levels, A,B,C and D.[/sws_blockquote_endquote]
The levels are broken down as follows:
- Level A – The highest level of protection. This level will include respiratory protection, skin protection and eye protection. Examples of this would be a positive pressure SCBA suit, a fully encapsulating, chemical resistant suit that is vapor tight, an inner chemical-resistant set of gloves and a set of chemical-resistant safety boots or shoes.
- Level B – The second highest level of protection will still provide complete respiratory protection against chemicals, but less skin protection than level A. Some recommended equipment for this level would include a supplied-air respiratory system, chemical-resistant clothing, inner and outer chemical resistant gloves, chemical-resistant boots and a hard hat.
- Level C – This level of protection has the same skin protection as Level B, but reduced respiratory protection. Examples of this would be a full-face piece with an air-purifier or canister-equipped respirator, chemical-resistant clothing, inner and outer gloves that are chemical-resistant along with chemical-resistant shoes or boots and a hard hat.
- Level D – This is the lowest level of protection, and requires no respiratory protection at all. At this level, only the needed safety equipment is required for a given situation, such as chemical resistant gloves, boots or goggles.
Choosing which level of protection is needed for a given situation is very important. While the cost of this protective gear goes up with each level, so does the level of protection. Looking at each situation carefully, and identifying how to best protect employees who are working with, or near, chemicals can be a difficult and complex task.
In many cases it can be appropriate to have Level D gear used on a day to day basis, but then have other levels available when using particularly harmful chemicals, or when using multiple chemicals that could combine to cause a higher level of risk.
If your facility has trained rescuers who are able to respond to an emergency chemical spill, they should have Level A safety gear available so they are protected when attempting to rescue other employees who may have come into contact with the chemicals. Each facility will, of course, have their own specific situations which they have to prepare for. In some cases there are requirements in place concerning what type of skin protection must be offered, but in most cases, it will be up to the facility to take steps to keep their employees safe.
Responding to a Skin Exposure to Chemicals
In the event that someone is exposed to a chemical in your facility, make sure that it is taken very seriously. In some cases, the individual may wash off the chemical quickly and think that they have avoided any negative impact. While this could be the case, they should still seek the attention of a qualified medical professional. Some chemicals will take time before the symptoms of the exposure present themselves.
In addition, there are times when there will be virtually no indication of damage on the skin, but the chemical could have been absorbed where it can cause problems with the tissues within the body. Any time a chemical spill occurs, no matter how minor, it is important to put safety first and get everyone involved checked out. In the days that follow, make sure they are keeping a close eye on the area where their skin came in contact with the chemical, and if there are any changes, they should seek additional medical help.