How to Identify Chemical Hazards in the Workplace

14th November 2018

The term ‘chemical hazard’ applies to any occupational hazard that exists through exposure to chemicals in the workplace. Chemicals in the workplace can pose a significant health risk to your employees in many ways – for example if they are incorrectly handled, or not stored in safe, robust chemical storage units.

Biological hazards include inhalation, skin contact or ingestion of chemicals, leading to either acute damage, or chronic illness. With physiochemical hazards, the risks stem from misuse or mishandling, owing to their flammable, corrosive, oxidising or explosive nature.

Organisations are legally obliged to implement a thorough risk assessment of chemical hazards in the workplace and to put the necessary control measures in place. Our chemical storage experts have outlined a practical approach you can take to identifying these hazards below.

Step 1. What chemicals are stored in your workplace?

Stock-taking and documenting your chemical inventory is the first step of implementing a robust chemical hazard identification strategy.

Rather than simply knowing what chemicals are being stored, and in what quantities on-site, hazards are not fully identified unless the exact properties and nature of each chemical are known. It is therefore the responsibility of the organisation to maintain a list of all chemicals admitted to and stored on the premises, alongside a detailed summary of each. The summary should include the associated dangers of each substance, both on its own and in conjunction with other chemicals present. This information can be found in the Material Safety Data Sheet, which will outline the hazard classification, chemical storage instructions, and other use situations which may pose additional risks.

Our chemical storage and inventory blog details the range of software available for tracking your chemical inventory.

Step 2. Ensure your chemical storage is robust

To prevent damage and avoid serious incidents, all chemicals stored on site should be stored in robust, secure chemical storage containers. These chemical storage containers should be fit for the purpose they are required for – e.g. if you’re storing flammable chemicals on site, you will need flammable storage containers. If you’re storing gas cylinders, you will require secure gas cylinder storage facilities.

Each chemical storage container should be clearly labelled with its contents and hazards. Chemical storage areas should also be clearly marked with appropriate chemical signage. Finally, all chemical storage areas should be fully kitted out with the necessary safety equipment to safely clean up chemical spills, leaks or escapes.

Step 3. Be aware of industrial processes that may produce hazardous chemicals

Bear in mind that risks are not restricted to chemical agents or containers marked ‘hazardous’ only. Hazardous chemicals may be produced by industrial processes on site, such as welding, grinding or diesel engine operation that trigger a subsequent chemical reaction or produce toxic waste. Any processes produced should be identified and a process should then be put in place to minimise any risks.

Step 4. Review past chemical incidents and re-assess current procedures

Incident records and the company accident book provide another useful source of safety information in each individual workplace. If hazards have occurred in the past, it is prudent to ensure these processes and work practices are re-assessed and evaluated for any potential hazards.

Review operating procedures around personnel who have access to chemical storage areas, how chemicals are used, whether safety equipment is available, and staff trained in its use, and whether third-party visitors to the site are systematically integrated into chemical safety operations.

Step 5. Assigning chemical safety responsibilities

While any employee working with hazardous chemicals must be trained in safe usage, overall responsibility for hazardous chemical safety should be assigned to a supervisor with practical knowledge of safety legislation, best practice, and workplace processes. This person may delegate duties and responsibilities through the hierarchy, but in an emergency, it is vital for fire or rescue crews to liaise with a single manager.

The person responsible for hazardous chemical safety should establish a transparent, widely accessible schedule for assessing and documenting chemical risks and employee training. This should incorporate regular maintenance and integrity testing of chemical containers and storage areas, and a clearly defined schedule for training and supervision.

In summary

Identifying and controlling chemical hazards in the workplace is not just a case of legal compliance, it is vital for safeguarding the health of your employees.

A thorough knowledge of the chemicals stored on site and their properties is only part of the equation. Our range of safe chemical storage units overcomes many of the challenges of storing chemicals in the right container within the appropriate areas. If you have any questions about safely storing chemicals in your workplace, our experts will be happy to help.

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