Every day, workers are exposed to thousands of potentially hazardous chemicals. This includes not only substances manufactured or used in production, but also cleaning supplies, paints, and solvents.
As a result, nearly 50,000 workers die and another 190,000 suffer illnesses related to chemical exposures each year, according to a University of California report. Some chemical exposures may result in immediate injuries such as burns or lung irritation. In other cases, it may take years for symptoms to appear.
Factors that contribute to incidents and injuries involving chemicals include improper storage and handling, poor ventilation, inadequate training and hazard communication, and long-term occupational exposure.
Fortunately, there are steps employers can take to protect workers from chemical hazards. By making simple modifications to operating procedures and following a few basic safety tips, employers can prevent chemical injuries and illnesses.
- Whenever possible, eliminate or substitute with safer chemicals. Learn more by visiting OSHA’s Transitioning to Safer Chemicals toolkit.
- Only keep the amounts of chemicals you need on hand. A good chemical inventory management system will help avoid excess ordering and related disposal costs.
- Establish a plan for new chemicals. Before a new chemical enters your facility, outline a plan for how it will be handled, stored, and disposed.
- Track chemicals as they are received. Recording chemicals as they come through the door is a simple but effective way to keep tabs on what’s in your facilities.
- Ensure that all chemical containers are properly labeled with the identity of the substance and appropriate hazard warnings.
- Follow proper chemical storage procedures. Storage information can usually be found on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or label.
- Implement a system for maintaining and updating safety data sheets (SDSs). Failure to maintain up-to-date SDSs for all chemicals on hand is one of the most commonly cited OSHA violations.
- Regularly inspect all PPE including respirators, gloves, and goggles to ensure they are in good working order.
- Ensure that employees have been trained on the chemical hazards they may encounter, how to use the information on SDSs, and proper job safety practices and protective measures. This is another frequent OSHA violation. A training management system can help you achieve better oversight on your training program.
- Verify that first aid supplies, emergency showers and eyewash stations, fire extinguishers, and spill kits are readily available and that employees have been trained in their use.