Chemical Hazards...An Overview
Chemical Hazards in the work place include any chemical substance that has the ability to cause physical harm or human health complications. Although some chemicals are safe, negative effects from chemical exposure are determined by the type of chemical, the duration of exposure, the route of exposure (absorption, inhalation or ingestion) and a wide variety of other factors. When most people think of chemical hazards, they envision workers in a chemical manufacturing facility or scientists in lab coats performing experiments. However, harmful chemical substances, such as common household cleaners, are found in nearly every office building and job site. Working safely around chemical hazards requires knowing the chemicals present on the job site, eliminating exposure pathways and understanding the negative effects of exposure.
Physical Harm Hazards from Chemical Exposure
Physical harm resulting from chemical exposure is based on the inherent properties of a chemical substance under a certain set of conditions. These types of chemical hazards usually involve immediate consequences resulting from energy release, fire or tissue damage. Main categories of physical harm hazards from chemical exposure include:
- Corrosives – chemicals that degrade metals (and tissue) upon contact.
- Flammables – chemicals that catch fire easily and/or give off combustible gases.
- Oxidizers – chemicals that burn without the presence of oxygen or intensify a fire in the presence of combustible fuel.
- Explosives – chemicals that are inherently unstable under normal conditions or easily release energy if exposed to heat or a spark.
- Gases Under Pressure – containerized chemical gases that explode with heat.
Human Health Hazards from Chemical Exposure
Human health hazards from chemical exposure are based on a variety of factors, including physical condition of the worker, route of exposure, duration of exposure and other factors. Health complications may be temporary or long-term and may occur immediately after initial contact or take multiple exposures over time to appear. Main categories of human health hazards from chemical exposure includes:
- Irritants – chemicals that induce toxicity that is generally less serious; which, if exposed, may cause redness and rash on the skin and eyes.
- Corrosives – chemicals that may burn skin and cause permanent eye damage upon contact.
- Harmful Substances – chemicals that may cause serious or long-term health complications if exposed over short or long periods of time.
- Toxic Substances – chemicals that may cause death with exposure, which could include exposure to a small amount of the chemical substance over a short period of time.