Fumes are a real danger when storing or working with chemicals. They have been known to overcome workers, and can prove fatal or leave affected personnel with long term health issues. However, following safety protocols can protect against this threat and greatly enhance the safety of your workplace.
- Safe Chemical Storage
One of the easiest ways to reduce chemical fumes in your workplace is to store your chemicals safely. Correct chemical storage actually reduces the creation of fumes, as many chemicals emit fumes when mixed together, are exposed to higher temperatures or are jostled. If possible, they should be kept in their original containers and stored in appropriate chemical cabinets to prevent this. Another important consideration is safely ventilating your storage area. Choosing ventilated storage cabinets prevents a build up of fumes from overpowering workers when the doors are opened, and can reduce the fire risk, as many fume build ups are highly flammable.
- Appropriate Internal Ventilation
However, your work place should also have safe ventilation. In fact, it’s a legal requirement in the UK to have a working local exhaust ventilation system in place (LEV). You must also have some way of checking if these are working, such as an airflow indicator. Using DIY indicators, such as pieces of paper or plastic hung over the vents, are not considered an adequate measure. Your LEV should be thoroughly tested at least every 14 months, and records of testing should be securely stored for at least five years. If you’d like to further ensure the safety of your employees, consider having fume hoods fitted at work stations to keep your employees air as clean as possible.
- External Ventilation
However, while ventilation is essential, you should be wary of where you are expelling the fumes. If these cause harm to the environment, nearby businesses, or people, your business is breaking the law and is at risk of a lawsuit. Check all outside vents regularly to ensure they are secure and aren’t contaminating their surroundings. If you feel this is a risk, invest in filters which can minimise the danger of the fumes.
- Protective Equipment
If there is no avoiding workers being exposed to chemical fumes in the workplace, employers are legally required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes gas masks, respirators and protective clothing. However, they should also have items in the company first aid kit to provide emergency care to those affected by fumes. For example, an emergency eye wash, as fumes can damage eyesight.