A corrosive substance is one that will damage or destroy other substances with which it comes into contact by means of a chemical reaction.
According to the Australian Dangerous Goods Code, corrosive substances are also classified as; “Class 8 – Corrosive Substances” and they are defined as:
“substances which, by chemical action, will cause severe damage when in contact with living tissue, or, in the case of leakage, will materially damage, or even destroy, other goods or the means of transport.”
Also, OSHA definition of corrosive in 29 CFR 1910.1200 App A is:
“… a chemical that produces destruction of skin tissue, namely, visible necrosis through the epidermis and into the dermis, in at least 1 of 3 tested animals after exposure up to a 4-hour duration. Corrosive reactions are typified by ulcers, bleeding, bloody scabs and, by the end of observation at 14 days, by discoloration due to blanching of the skin, complete areas of alopecia and scars. Histopathology should be considered to discern questionable lesions.
Examples of corrosive substances
Most corrosives are either acids or bases.
Common acid include: Hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, chromic acid, acetic acid and hydrofluoric acid.
- Will neutralise alkalis
- Turn blue litmus paper red.
- Dissolve some metals
- Taste sour
- Have a pH level less than 7
Common bases are: Ammonium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide (caustic potash) and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda).
- Will neutralise Acids
- Turn red litmus paper blue.
- Taste bitter
- Are slippery to touch
- Have a pH level greater than 7
Health effect of corrosive substances
- Corrosives materials can burn and destroy body tissues on contact. The stronger, or more concentrated, the corrosive material is and the longer it touches the body, the worse the injuries will be.
- Corrosive materials can severely irritate, or in some cases, burn the eyes. This could result in scars or permanent blindness. The stronger, or more concentrated, the corrosive material is and the longer it touches the eyes, the worse the injury will be.
- Corrosives touching the skin can severely irritate or even badly burn and blister the skin. Severe corrosive burns over a large part of the body can cause death.
- Breathing in corrosive vapours or particles irritates and burns the inner lining of the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs. In serious cases, this results in pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be fatal.
- Swallowing corrosive material burns the sensitive lining of the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach. In nonfatal cases, severe scarring of the throat may occur and could result in losing the ability to swallow.
Safety tips for the use of corrosive substance
- Ensure that the corrosive substances are stored in compliant outdoor chemical storage containers or indoor chemical storage cabinets that meet necessary requirements.
- Having a copy of the Safety Data Sheets of the corrosive substances close at hand so they can be consulted when needed.
- Displaying relevant safety signage in the areas where the corrosive substances are stored to ensure that people in the surrounding areas are aware.
- Ensuring that correct PPE such as corrosive resistance gloves and eye protection are used when handling corrosive substance.
- Install chemical spill kits in locations where corrosive substances are stored to ensure that spills can be cleaned up before they pose further risks to people, property and the environment.
Read Also: NFPA diamond hazard rating system
Emergency preparedness for corrosive substance
Step 1: Remove any contaminated clothing from the person as soon as possible, as this may be continuing to cause harm. Be careful that it does not come into contact with your own skin and be aware of clothing that may have stuck to burns.
Step 2: If the substance is dry powder rather than a liquid, then try to brush it off.
Step 3: Use cool water to continually flush the affected area for up to 20 minutes. If the eyes have been affected, then ensure you hold the eyelids back to wash away any substance from under them.
- Do not pierce any blisters or skin
- Do not continually flood a small child with cold water as this can cause hypothermia
- Do not use any type of cream, lotion or other treatment on the affected area
Due to the variable nature of accidents involving corrosive substances, you may also need to be prepared to treat secondary symptoms such as shock and even cardiac arrest.
Read Also: 10 Typical examples of chemical hazards
Everyone in the workplace should know the emergency procedures put in place for accidents involving acid and corrosive substances. Managers should plan and prepare to cope with such accidents and incidents by:
- Ensuring that appropriate safety equipment is provided.
- Training staff to handle an emergency incident and how to use emergency equipment correctly and also take care of the accident victim.
- Create a plan to deal with the corrosive waste substances after an accident.