Hazardous materials are ubiquitous in a variety of workplaces and industries. From common household chemicals like cleaning products and antifreeze to industry-specific chemicals like muriatic acid, dangerous substances are a part of everyday life and work.
Unfortunately, when employees aren’t properly trained on handling hazardous materials (or these materials aren’t labelled or stored properly), workers can become injured, hospitalized, and can even potentially die from burns, cuts, explosions, and more.
While some workplaces are replacing harmful chemicals with more eco-friendly ones, this isn’t always an option for every industry. So here are 10 steps to help your employees take the initiative and keep safe when interacting with hazardous materials at your workplace.
Have you taken inventory of all hazardous materials in your workplace? Identify all potentially hazardous materials and verify that they’re labelled and stored correctly. Keep hazardous materials in dry, cool areas with proper ventilation — and possibly behind locked doors, when applicable. Ensure incompatible chemicals aren’t stored close together, either, as these can cause dangerous chemical reactions and result in fires or explosions.
OSHA requires hazardous materials to be labelled and accompanied by safety data sheets (SDS). Don’t remove or change these container labels. If a label is missing, don’t use the material or chemical — and instruct your employees to notify a supervisor if they come across an unlabeled substance.
Safety Data Sheets are valuable resources for you and your employees when it comes to identifying and handling hazardous materials. They share the properties of each chemical at your workplace, their hazards, and guidelines for managing each chemical or material. Whether you keep them in an electronic database or store paper copies, SDS should be readily available to all employees — not locked up or kept in a password-protected location.
You can’t expect every team member to be an expert on every chemical you keep in the workplace, which is why chemical labels and SDS are so useful. Chemical labels and SDS tell your employees everything they need to know about a substance: from the types of dangers it poses (whether it’s flammable, causes cancer, is poisonous, etc.) to instructions for how to manage leaks, spills, or accidents involving the material. They state how a material should be stored and used, and how it should be disposed of.
However, labels and SDS aren’t much help if your team doesn’t use them! To ensure everyone has access to accurate information about your hazardous materials, require your team to take a safety training course on reading chemical labels. Not only is a course a great way to verify your team’s knowledge is up to date, but it will help you cover your bases with OSHA, which requires that workers are able to understand chemical labels and SDS.
If your work environment involves potential hazardous energy releases from equipment or machines, a lockout/tagout process is essential to keeping your workers safe from accidents like burns, amputation, fractures, and more.
Here’s a lockout/tagout training booklet to include in your workplace safety program.
If you’re a chemical manufacturer, you’ll want your employees to be up-to-date on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. To start, here’s a booklet that summarizes the OSHA Standard and provides important details about chemicals, safety data sheets, handling leaks and spills, PPE, and more.
Your PPE and emergency equipment will vary depending on your workplace, but here are some examples:
- Face masks, gloves, and goggles
- Hand washing stations
- Eye wash stations
Replace PPE if it becomes damaged or worn, and don’t reuse disposable PPE. Cleaning areas should be clutter-free and regularly inspected.
Chemicals and other hazardous materials must stay in their original containers. Don’t mix them with other substances or put them into food containers.
Each material or substance has its own requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), handling, use with other substances, and cleanup — so read labels carefully. Only use chemicals for their intended purpose, and take care to follow procedures when transporting hazmat from one location to another.
Accidents happen, so your familiarity with emergency protocol can potentially mean the difference between serious injury and safety. What happens if there’s a chemical fire, spill, or a worker is injured from handling a dangerous substance? When should your team evacuate the premises? Have an emergency plan written and posted for your team to reference.
Different hazardous materials require different disposal methods. Some chemicals can never be poured down the drain, in the sewer, or even disposed of in the trash. Further, some materials require special sealed containers for disposal, while others may need to be transported to a special facility for disposal.
When it comes to workplace safety, don’t delay. Reinforce the need for vigilance around hazardous materials by checking out our affordable and ready-to-use hazard communication training kits.