Protect Your Workplace Against Chemical Hazards

Know more about chemical hazards, the definition, types, and examples. Discover how businesses can implement control measures to reduce employee exposure to hazardous chemicals.

chemical hazard

Published 28 Apr 2022

What is a Chemical Hazard?

A chemical hazard is any substance, regardless of its form—that can potentially cause physical and health hazards to people, or can result in harm to the environment. It can also be defined as the actual risk associated with specific chemicals, such as skin burns, long-term negative impact to health, lasting environmental damage, fires, or even explosions.

According to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it is important that employees are aware of the risks and hazards associated with their daily work. Hazard recognition also reduces the chance of exposure to hazardous chemicals and the injuries they can bring.

Types of Chemical Hazards

Although there are several types of chemical hazards that have been generally identified, the following are the chemicals commonly found in the workplace:

Types of Chemical Hazards

  • Asphyxiants – these are chemicals or gasses that can cause difficulty in breathing, unconsciousness, or death by suffocation.
  • Corrosives – these are chemicals that can cause severe skin burns and damages in tissue once contacted with.
  • Irritants – these chemicals usually cause redness, rashes, or inflammation of the affected area. Although the presence of symptoms are normally short-term, there are still instances where they create long-lasting effects on others.
  • Sensitizers – people or animals that are exposed to this type of chemical develop allergic reactions after a significant amount of time or repeated exposure to the specific chemical.
  • Carcinogens – carcinogens are substances that are known to be cancer-causing chemicals. They are categorized as either natural or manmade, but it is crucial to note that even a small amount of this type of chemical can severely damage human health.
  • Mutagens – exposure to these types of chemicals can cause irreversible changes or mutations to a person’s DNA.
  • Teratogens – these are chemicals that can cause physiological development abnormalities or birth defects, and commonly affects pregnant women or animals.
  • Reactive – these are substances that, under certain conditions or exposure to other chemicals or elements, can cause severe physical hazards such as fires or explosions.
  • Flammable – these are chemical substances or materials that can ignite once exposed to air and other elements.

Examples

Exposure to hazardous chemicals in workplaces can result in adverse health conditions including headache, difficulty in breathing, skin irritation, severe allergic reaction, and other more serious and long-lasting side effects.

Although most hazardous chemicals are easily identifiable, some of them may be used on a daily basis with workers not having prior knowledge of their potential negative effects. Examples of hazardous chemicals in workplace include:

  • gasoline
  • methanol
  • disinfectants
  • glues
  • cleaning materials
  • detergents
  • pesticides
  • paints
  • cosmetics
  • welding fumes
  • heavy metals including lead, aluminum, and mercury

Controlling Chemical Hazards Exposure in the Workplace

Workplaces—especially manufacturing or other related industries—can’t totally eliminate or avoid the use of all hazardous chemicals. What businesses can do to protect their workers however, is to follow and observe safety measures that aim to control the chemical hazards in workplaces and reduce their potential negative impact on employees.

The following are some preventive measures and other helpful tips on how to proactively maintain a safe working environment for you and your employees:

Identify hazardous chemicals present in your workplace

Primarily, businesses will have to identify hazardous chemicals that are present in the workplace. Some are obvious and easy to recognize, while others are not initially evident. With this process, you’ll have a well-grounded basis on how to best handle each chemical while also allowing your workers to practice safety measures on their own.

Assess risks associated with identified chemicals

Once the hazards are identified, there should be an evaluation of the risks associated with those chemicals, along with the likelihood of those risks occurring. Through a comprehensive risk assessment, businesses will also be able to identify the severity of the risks’ consequences, should they end up happening. This process can be a great deciding factor on which risks should be prioritized and resolved first.

Control the risks

This is the part where businesses will have to decide on how to manage or control the risks identified. When dealing with chemical hazards in workplaces, you must follow the principle of the hierarchy of controls. This concept gives the order or level of how you can potentially control each specific risk. This is the order of the hierarchy and their definitions:

  • Elimination – totally remove and discontinue the use of the hazardous chemicals.
  • Substitution – find alternatives or replace with other less hazardous chemicals.
  • Engineering controls – implement changes in the process such as minimizing the contact with the chemicals, or physically separating people from them.
  • Administrative controls – implement changes in the way people work such as rotating their schedules or rearranging job assignments.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – if hazardous chemicals can’t be avoided, or businesses can’t reduce the contact employees have with them, ensure the use of PPE to lessen exposure and risk factors.

Implement good control measures

Businesses should also have comprehensive and standard control measures that can be followed by all involved personnel and employees to prevent any hazardous effects of chemicals. These measures also help ensure that all relevant stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to chemical safety.

Utilize safety signs and symbols

According to the OSHA, and in compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), it is required by law that all chemicals have a label that not only includes what kind of chemical they are, but also the type of hazard associated with them. This is called GHS Pictograms, a safety symbols labeling system that is specific to chemicals.

Perform regular inspections

For all of these efforts to be effective, businesses must perform regular inspections to ensure that they are being followed and consistently practiced. Audits can also be a great determining factor to know which control measures work and which don’t. Examples of helpful inspections related to chemicals include chemical safety audits and hazardous materials inspections.

Protect Your Workplace with iAuditor

Ensure safe handling and controlling of hazardous chemicals in your workplace with the use of a digital safety platform. iAuditor by SafetyCulture is a powerful inspection and auditing tool that businesses can use to implement safety measures with regard to rules and regulations surrounding chemical hazards. iAuditor is best utilized in the various processes involved in managing potential negative impacts of hazardous chemicals and can further help you do the following:

  • Conduct unlimited inspections, assessments, and audits using digital chemical hazard checklists. Or create your own and customize them according to your business needs and preferences.
  • Perform risk assessments, checks of safety signs and symbols, hazardous materials, and PPE inspections. You can also find other templates which may be relevant to your business in our Public Library.
  • Share new templates, schedule automatic inspections, and configure user access effortlessly by integrating seamless workflows into your business processes.
  • Create corrective actions, report issues, and immediately assign them to relevant personnel for time-sensitive responses.
  • Implement a scoring system in your inspections and monitor employee compliance through the tool’s analytics dashboard to ensure continuous process improvement.
  • Attach photo evidence in your inspections for high-level visibility and exact references.
  • Access all your documents safely, anytime and anywhere, with cloud-based recordkeeping.

Try iAuditor for free!

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Jaydee Reyes

Jaydee Reyes is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her six-year experience in the field of data research and media monitoring adds expertise and quality to her work. She is also a champion of leveraging technology to promote a culture of safety in workplaces around the world. As a content specialist, she aims to help companies adapt to digital changes through interesting and informational articles.

Jaydee Reyes is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her six-year experience in the field of data research and media monitoring adds expertise and quality to her work. She is also a champion of leveraging technology to promote a culture of safety in workplaces around the world. As a content specialist, she aims to help companies adapt to digital changes through interesting and informational articles.