Hazardous Chemicals

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When working with chemicals it is important to understand that the harmful effects of many of they are not yet known, or they are known but safety measures have not yet been adapted. Therefore, it is vital to always take safety measures. With this in mind, all workers must realize that chemicals can enter the body via three methods; inhalation (by breathing), absorption (through the skin), and ingestion (through the mouth). In addtion, chemicals can take any of the following forms; dust, vapour, gas, solid, or liquid, and all can be equally harmful.

Some chemicals, such as acid, can cause immediate harm while others cause health problems years later. Two good examples of this are; chlorine will cause severe lung damage immediately, while asbestos will cause lung damage, in the form of cancer, years after exposure.

Materal Safety Data Sheets / Risk and Safety Statement

Although different countries use different names, they all serve the same puprose, and that is to warn the users of the ristks, how to avoid the dangers, and what to do if an accident happens. In North America they are called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), while in Europe they are called Risk and Safety Statement.

Any chemical purchased for the work or for the home is legally suppose to include an MSDS or a Risk and Safety Statement. These sheets are supposed to list information such as;

  • Properties of the substance,
  • Proper procedures for handling the substance,
  • Physical data such as its boiling point, melting point, etc.,
  • Proper storage methods,
  • What protective equipment should be used,
  • What needs to be done if a contamination occurs,
  • First aid procedures,
  • Health effects.

Safety Precautions

  • The protective equipment to be used will depend on the type of work being done and the chemicals that are being used. Make sure that the equipment is designed to offer enough protectiong, e.g. a latex glove will not provide any protection at all froma corrossive chemical.
  • Personal protective equipment:
    • Breathing barriers to prevent the inhalation of gases or fumes.
    • Eye protection to protect from splashing of liquid chemicals.
    • Rubber gloves to protect from corrossive liquids.
    • Rubber aprons.
    • Rubber boots.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventillation, and/or a method of expelling the chemical (e.g. gas).
  • Have clear exits in case an accident occurs.
  • Block off the work area so others donít enter.
  • Have fire extinguishes readily available.
  • Know the best way to notify rescue authorities.
  • Do not work alone.
  • In some cases one worker should always be outside the immediate danger area so they can obtain assistance should an accident occurs.
  • Have wash stations at work incase of an accident.
  • Change clothing before leaving work, so as to not bring chemicals into your home.
  • If an accident does occur, even if there are no injuries, a report must be filled out and the supervisors must be notified immediately.
  • In addition, immediate steps must be taken to prevent a similar accident from happening.

Examples of Harmful Chemicals

Asbestos:

A group of minerals that form bundles of fibers. It has been widely used for many years in many industries, such as; in plastics, insulation, sound absorption materials, building materials, in automotive parts, paint, etc. The risk with asbestos is that it can damage the lungs and can lead to lung cancer.

Mercury:

This chemical has been around for many years, and has such functions such as being used in thermometers (it is being phased out), it was used in dental fillings, and it is used in some electronic equipment. Over the years it has caused many deaths via accidental poisoning. Because of many reasons, mercury has made its way into our invirnoment, and many fish are now unsafe to eat because of the high mercury content they contain. Mercury poisoning can lead to damage to the nervous system, the kidneys, gums, teeth, digestive organs, and the endocrine organs. In addition, it can seriously harm a fetus and a newborn baby, more so if the exposed mother is breast-feeding.

Chlorine:

A very common substance, often used for cleaning or for disinfecting purposes. It can take the form of a liquid or a gas. If liquid chlorine is spilled on the skin it will burn, with the severity pending on how pure it is and the amount of time it remains on the skin. If liquid chlorine is spilled or splashed in the eyes it can quickly cause permanent blindness. Chlorine in a gas form can cause serious and permanent damage to the lungs, and can cause death if exposure is severe enough. In addition, liquid chlorine will also give off strong gaseous fumes. Mixing of chlorine with other chemicals can produce even more poisonous fumes, or can even cause an explosion.

Lead:

A chemical that was used widely used in paints. If your home is more than 20 years old there is a good chance that the paint used contained lead. Even if you repainted, unless you removed the old paint, there is a good chance there is lead still present. Lead can cause various health problems such as seisures, vomiting, appetite loss, headaches, fatigue, and kidney failure with long term exposure. Children are more vulnerable to lead because their bodies are still growing. It can affect their proper growth development both physically and mentally. Lead can also harm a fetus if the expecting mother is exposed to it.

Pesticides:

Used to control insects and certain types of plants from growing, has been shown to cause many health problems ranging from skin rashes to cancers. Whenever possible these chemicals should not be used and alternatives should be sought.

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