Handling Hazardous Materials in the Workplace

In this article we will be discussing on “Handling Hazardous Materials in the Workplace“.

In this article, we will be discussing the topic under different sub-topics:

  • What are hazardous materials
  • Examples of hazardous materials in the workplace
  • Effect of exposure to hazardous materials
  • Agencies that define and govern hazardous materials in the U.S
  • Rules for Safe Handling of Hazardous Chemicals

What are hazardous materials

Hazardous materials are materials that has the potential to pose risks to human health, the environment, or property when not handled, stored, or disposed of properly. Hazardous materials poses significant properties that qualifies them as to be hazardous, some of the characteristics includes:

1. Toxicity: They have the tendency to cause harm or death when they come into contact with living organisms. This harm can result from acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) exposure.

2. Flammability: Another characteristic is that they are flammable. They can ignite easily when exposed to heat, open flames, or other ignition sources. Flammable chemicals can lead to fires or explosions.

3. Reactivity: They can undergo violent reactions when exposed to other substances or specific conditions. For example, chemicals that react with water or air can be highly dangerous.

4. Corrosive: They are capable of damaging living tissues and materials, including metals, through chemical reactions. These substances can cause burns or damage to equipment and structures.

5. Carcinogenic: Another characteristics is that some hazardous chemicals has carcinogenic property, i.e., may cause cancer in humans or animals. Prolonged exposure to carcinogens can increase the risk of cancer development.

6. Mutagenic: Mutagenic chemicals can cause genetic mutations in living organisms, potentially leading to hereditary health issues or birth defects in future generations.

7. Teratogenic: Teratogenic chemicals can cause birth defects in developing fetuses if pregnant individuals are exposed to them during pregnancy.

8. Ecotoxic: They have the capacity of harming the environment, including wildlife and ecosystems. They may persist in the environment and accumulate in the food chain.

Examples of hazardous materials in the workplace

Here are some examples of hazardous materials:

  • Acids
  • Caustic substances
  • Disinfectants
  • Glues
  • Heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminum
  • Paint
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum products
  • Solvents.

Effect of exposure to hazardous materials

Exposure to hazardous materials can have a wide range of effects on human health and the environment. Here are some potential effects of exposure to hazardous materials:

1. Acute Health Effects: Immediate exposure to some hazardous materials can cause acute health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, skin irritation, respiratory distress, etc.

2. Chronic Health Effects: Long-term exposure to hazardous materials may lead to chronic health problems, including cancer, respiratory diseases, neurological disorders, reproductive issues, etc.

3. Toxicity: Hazardous materials can be toxic to humans, animals, and plants, leading to illness or death upon exposure.

4. Chemical Burns: Exposure to corrosive chemicals can cause severe chemical burns on the skin, eyes, and respiratory system.

5. Environmental Contamination: Hazardous materials can contaminate soil, water, and air, affecting ecosystems and potentially harming wildlife.

6. Fire and Explosions: Certain hazardous materials are flammable or explosive, posing a significant risk of fires and explosions in the event of exposure.

7. Occupational Hazards: Workers exposed to hazardous materials may face occupational hazards, including injuries, illnesses, and long-term health problems.

8. Water Pollution: Contaminants can leach into water sources, leading to water pollution and potential harm to human and aquatic life.

9. Respiratory Issues: Exposure to airborne hazardous materials can result in respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung damage.

READ: Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS)

Other effects

  • Poisoning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Skin rashes, such as dermatitis
  • Chemical burns
  • Birth defects
  • Disorders of the lung, kidney or liver
  • Nervous system disorders.

Agencies that define and govern hazardous materials in the U.S

Major agencies define and govern hazardous materials in the U.S.

The Environmental Protection Agency

The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

EPA works to ensure that:

  • Americans have clean air, land and water;
  • National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information;
  • Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are administered and enforced fairly, effectively and as Congress intended;
  • Environmental stewardship is integral to U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • All parts of society–communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments–have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • Contaminated lands and toxic sites are cleaned up by potentially responsible parties and revitalized; and
  • Chemicals in the marketplace are reviewed for safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor. The administrator for OSHA is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA’s administrator answers to the Secretary of Labor, who is a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States.

The U.S. Department of Transportation

The top priorities at DOT are to keep the traveling public safe and secure, increase their mobility, and have our transportation system contribute to the nation’s economic growth.

DOT employs almost 55,000 people across the country, in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and its operating administrations and bureaus, each with its own management and organizational structure.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and enforcement of its requirements.

Rules for Safe Handling Hazardous Materials in the Workplace

Here are some rules you should imbibe for safe handling for hazardous materials:

  1. Assess the risks that exist in the workplace
  2. Provide employees adequate training and information about the hazardous materials in your workplace.
  3. Consider potential hazards and plan ahead.
  4. Always use the proper personal protection equipment (PPE).
  5. Ensure all hazardous materials are properly marked.
  6. Keep all hazardous materials stored properly.
  7. Only use hazardous materials for their intended purposes.
  8. Never eat or drink while handling hazardous materials, and always wash hands after using, handling or transporting hazardous chemicals.
  9. Employees handling hazardous materials should always read the labels to understand what they are working with and have the safety data sheet (SDS) accessible prior to using any materials in order to understand how to handle a spill or exposure to that chemical.
  10. Report any concerns about damaged containers or potential leaks or spills.
  11. Follow all established procedures and perform job duties as you have been trained.

  12. Read labels and the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) before using any material to make sure you understand hazards and precautions.

  13. Employees handling hazardous materials need to read labels on chemicals they use or handle and have Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) available to refer to that explain how to properly deal with handling, storing, and cleaning up spills, and that explain relevant first-aid procedures.

  14. Employees must keep themselves and the work area clean. After handling any hazardous material, wash thoroughly with soap and water. Clean work surfaces at least once per shift, so contamination risks are minimized.

  15. Learn about emergency procedures and equipment.

  16. Keep emergency eyewash and shower stations clean.