Best Practices For Employee Chemical Protection in the Workplace

Safety in the workplace should be a top priority for every business. Concerns such as electrical safety, slips and falls, and fire prevention are commonly discussed but employee chemical protection should not be overlooked. Workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

Nearly every place of business has harmful chemicals stored on-site, even if they’re only used for simple cleaning purposes. Here we’ll go over some best practices for employee chemical protection to reduce the hazards.

Mark Designated Areas For Chemical Storage

Any and all chemicals should be isolated in their own storage area, away from food items, equipment, heat sources and utensils. All chemical storage areas should also be marked with prominent signage. Whenever possible, store chemicals on lower shelves to reduce the risk of spills.

Types of Workplace Chemical Controls

OSHA recommends the use of various exposure controls in the workplace. These include:

  • Elimination or Substitution: This means eliminating certain harmful chemicals altogether from your cleaning/maintenance regimen if possible, and substituting them with safer alternatives that are just as effective.
  • Environmental Controls: By changing the working environment, you can make it safer for employees when they need to handle harmful chemicals. Such changes could include installing fume hoods, using dilution ventilation, using wet methods in order to reduce dust and other particulates, and isolating/enclosing the area in which chemicals are being used.
  • Administrative Controls: Administrative controls are steps that management can take in order to reduce employee exposure to chemicals. This includes things like rotating responsibilities or changing schedules so workers are not overexposed for long periods of time.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE should always be used by employees that are handling harmful chemicals, even ones that are perceived as “just for cleaning.” Proper PPE includes but is not limited to:
    • Respiratory protection
    • Gloves (latex or rubber, depending on the chemical being used)
    • Eye protection (face shield, goggles or safety glasses)
    • Apron

General Chemical Protection Tips

While most safety guidelines depend on the type of business being run, the amount of space available and other factors, there are best practices for all to keep in mind. Here are some general safety tips to keep staff protected from harmful chemicals:

  • Never mix bleach and ammonia: While each of these chemicals have their own separate use for cleaning, they should never be mixed together. Mixing them creates chloramine gas, which can easily damage your respiratory system or even kill you, depending on how long you’ve been exposed. In fact, it’s always good to err on the side of caution and refrain from mixing chemicals in general, unless the label says otherwise.
  • Always read labels: Not only is reading labels crucial in getting effective use out of your chemicals, it contains crucial safety information. Chemical labels have the proper mixing instructions, warnings about the type of PPE you’ll need, and what to do if the chemical manages to get on your skin or in your eye. Having read such information prior to use will allow you to act quickly if something goes wrong.
  • Label all cleaning bottles: Refillable spray bottles may be an effective way to store chemicals. However, when doing so it’s of utmost importance to clearly label what chemical is inside the bottle as well as general safety information and mixing instructions.

Employee Chemical Training

The most effective way to prevent incidents is to ensure all staff are knowledgeable about the chemicals they’re expected to handle. Chemical safety training is a requirement in all states, but some states have further requirements so be sure to read up on your state’s OSHA guidelines.

Be sure to touch on the following topics during your employee chemical protection training sessions: 

  • Common intake methods of harmful chemicals (inhalation, ingestion and absorption)
  • Chemicals each employee is expected to handle and how they work
  • The importance of carefully reading labels and following use instructions precisely
  • Nine internationally-recognized safety hazard symbols and signage and what they mean
  • Where to find Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and how to use them
  • Location of eyewash stations, first aid kits and how they are used
  • Proper chemical storage and labeling practices
  • How and when to use personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Proper chemical waste disposal
  • How to promptly clean spills
  • Never to mix chemicals

OSHA Chemical Storage Requirements

OSHA outlines a number of chemical storage requirements for all businesses. While some of the details may change due to the type of business, here are the main points that can guide you to a safer work environment:

  • All employees must receive training (outlined above)
  • Chemicals must be accompanied by an SDS that outlines a chemical’s properties, hazard information, protective measures that must be taken, as well as advice on proper storage
  • All SDSs must be readily available to all employees
  • Storage areas must be kept clean of clutter, explosives and flammable conditions
  • Take measures to prevent rats or pests from invading chemical storage areas
  • Separate chemicals that can’t be stored together

Society Insurance is Here to Protect Your Livelihood

Through our extensive library of free safety tips and resources in addition to our customizable business insurance policies, Society Insurance is here to help you improve safety policies and protect your livelihood. To learn more, get in touch with your local Society agent today.

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As a mutual insurance company, we operate and exist for the benefit of our policyholders. For more than 100 years, Society has been helping businesses overcome the unexpected with comprehensive coverage packages and outstanding claims handling, underwriting and risk management.

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