Hazardous Chemical Awareness

Josiah Warkentin on Jun 19, 2013 7:00:00 AM


On April 10th of this year, more than a dozen people were taken to the hospital after being exposed to a chemical known as tetrachloride. The spill happened around 3 p.m. in a science lab basement on the Colorado College downtown campus. 12 of 13 patients were released after being treated by paramedics. A CC employee remains hospitalized as a precaution. The incident caused Olin Hall and the Barnes Science Center to be shut down for several hours.

There are so many chemical hazards all around us that it would be almost impossible to function if we focused constantly on the dangers. This is precisely why we need to consider the dangers: we must know what they are if we are to protect ourselves from them. People who work in industry are in even more danger than everyone else from workplace and toxic chemical hazards, so workers should be more cautious and prepared. Everyone should know exactly what do in case of unsafe contact with hazardous material. All employees should know definition of hazardous chemicals, the ways hazardous chemicals can kill or injure, and what to do to remain safe from chemical hazards.

Awareness of chemical hazards can save lives.

The first step is to learn how to know if a chemical is hazardous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines hazardous chemical as any chemical that is a physical or health hazard. Health hazards are chemicals that cause acute or chronic health effects to exposed employees. These include:

  • Carcinogens.
  • Reproductive toxins. 
  • Irritants. 
  • Corrosives. 
  • Sensitizers. 
  • Hepatotoxins (liver toxins). 
  • Nephrotoxins (kidney toxins). 
  • Neurotoxins. 
  • And others.


Physical hazards can be:

  • Combustible liquids. 
  • Compressed gases. 
  • Explosives. 
  • Flammable. 
  • Organic peroxides. 
  • Oxidizers. 
  • Pyrophoric. 
  • Unstable (reactive). 
  • Water-reactive. 

Chemical hazard awareness in the workplace is a must, and training employees to recognize the hazards will save lives.

Second, you must know the signs and symptoms of chemical exposure. There are many potentially hazardous chemicals in the workplace and several ways to be exposed to chemicals, such as:

  • Inhalation of vapors. 
  • Spills and leaks. 
  • Engulfment. 
  • And others.

Knowing the danger and knowing the routes of exposure that chemicals take to enter the body is the first step to getting help. Toxic chemicals can enter the body through:

  • Through the lungs. 
  • Through the skin.
  • Through the digestive system. 
  • Through cuts and punctures.

rash on hand

Learn to avoid these hazards, and look for symptoms of chemical exposure after all incidents. Acute effects show up after a single, brief exposure to a material. Symptoms of acute chemical exposure include:

  • Rashes or skin irritation. 
  • Headache. 
  • Nausea. 
  • Burns.  

Acute effects are often reversible when the exposure stops. Atmospheric hazards often do not display many of these symptoms, so alertness and quick response are important and can stop injuries and deaths.

Repeated or prolonged exposures to hazardous materials can result in chronic effects. They may take weeks, months, or even years to show up, and the effects depend on the amount and frequency of exposure. Examples of chronic effects are:

  • Liver and kidney disease. 
  • Nerve and brain disorders. 
  • Reproductive damage. 

Often chronic effects cannot be reversed even if the exposure is stopped; recognizing exposure quickly is vital to the health and well-being of all the workers.

Worksite analysis is beneficial.

All companies should have a work-site analysis conducted, and use industrial hygiene to create a hazardous materials safety plan. Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers' injury or illness. Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards. A chemical hygiene plan (CHP) is the best method to map out what should be done in hazardous chemical exposure situations. A CHP is a detailed strategy for controlling hazards in a given location, and it should identify all the hazards present in that area and describe specific measures for effectively controlling those hazards. This can and will save lives.



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