Safe handling of chemicals
Working to prevent risks can turn out to be a good strategy. According to the Swedish Work Environment Authority*, during 2014 over 1,000 work injuries were caused by chemical/biological substances.
Illness among the staff increases the costs for an organisation. When the Swedish Work Environment Authority conducted a project in 2003 and checked 1,800 workplaces, they found that two out of three were deficient in their chemical checks. This is an alarmingly high proportion. Also, accidents in which chemicals are leaked into the environment can have considerable consequences for a company, not least of which is that they lose trust capital.
Here are some ground rules that can be useful to have while at work to ensure safe handling of chemicals:
- Keep track of which chemicals are being used in the business. Keep a list of the substances, the amounts being used and the risks associated with them. You can read more in Taking inventory.
- This also applies to gathering information and distributing it to those who need it. Current safety data sheets are one condition. Read more in Safety data sheets. There may be a need for special instructions and training to assure safe handling. Read more in Responsibility and training. To understand the risks it is often necessary to carry out an overall risk analysis. In the introduction Risk analysis there is more to read about this.
- Storing and using chemicals in a safe way is a further foundation for working with chemicals. This introduction deals with this.
- In continuing risk reduction work it is necessary to decide whether a particular chemical is really needed. In many cases there can be another substance that is less hazardous to health and the environment, or perhaps a different method, see more under substitution. Purchasing of chemical substances therefore requires special procedures, read more in Purchasing.
Things to remember when storing, labelling, handling and personal hygiene
- All chemical products must be stored and labelled in accordance with the instructions on the safety sheet.
- Chemicals must not be stored together with inflammable material and gas cylinders.
- Do not store acids and alkalis together.
- Do not store strong acids and organic substances together.
- Do not store strongly oxidising substances together with oxidisable substances.
- Ethers and other peroxide-building substances must be stored in the dark and cool, in tightly sealed containers.
- Chemical containers must be stored with closed lids when they are not being used.
- Refrigerators and freezers for storage of chemicals must be of such a type that is specially made for this purpose. Chemicals and similar items must not be stored in refrigerators or freezers that are intended to store food.
- Chemical stores must not have open floor drains. If there is a floor drain, it must be equipped with protection to prevent leakage. This means for example tight fitting lids, a manual opening and closing function in the drain or other comparable arrangement.
- Equipment for handling and cleaning up spillage must be in readiness and suitable for the chemicals that are stored. It is suitable to have equipment placed outside the chemical store.
- It is important for the fire classification of storage lockers and rooms to match the types and amounts of chemicals stored therein.
- Combustible material must be stored in fireproof cupboards or in separate spaces.
- Chemicals must normally be stored in their original packaging. If you need smaller amounts of a chemical, the new packaging must be suitable for the substance. Labelling must be in accordance with the original packaging. It must always be possible to know what substance the packaging contains and what risks there may be.
Handling of chemicals
- Always read the safety data sheet and the text on the packaging carefully when you are about to use a product with which you are not completely familiar with the risks. Contact the environmental co-ordinator if you are unsure about handling methods.
- Use personal protection equipment (e.g. gloves, face mask) where necessary.
- Surplus chemicals and hazardous waste must be dealt with in accordance with the information in the safety data sheet.
- First Aid equipment must be available.
- Workplaces must be cleaned regularly. There must not be chemical spills on the floor.
- Smoking is forbidden in the factory area outside specially assigned smoking areas. If you smoke, remember to wash your hands before lighting up a cigarette. Otherwise chemical substances can be transferred by skin contact or breathed in.
- Immediately wash off chemical traces from the skin. Read the safety data sheet or ask your immediate superior if you are not sure what needs to be done.
- Food products must not be stored or eaten in premises where chemicals are handled.
- Work clothes must be kept clean. If you have been in contact with chemicals, take a shower before you go home.
Some rules concerning handling chemicals
- In accordance with the product choice or substitution principle such chemicals that can be replaced by those that are less hazardous should be avoided (The Environmental Code part 2 section 4§).
- Chemical products that are hazardous to health or are inflammable must be listed. (The National Swedish Board of Occupational Safety and Health regulations (2000:4) concerning Chemical risks to the working environment).
- There must be a safety data sheet for every chemical products that is hazardous to health or environment or is inflammable. (Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), article 31.)
- The risks associated with the use of chemicals must be continuously examined, assessed and minimised, in accordance with the Ordinance (1998:901) on operator's control. Refer also to operator's control in the Environmental Code (part 26 section 19 §). The results must be documented. The regulations apply to permit and notification requirements in the case of environmentally hazardous activities.
* Arbetsskador 2014. Arbetsmiljöstatistik Rapport 2015:1. Arbetsmiljöverket.