Sometimes, in the course of your work, it may be necessary to use substances that have potentially hazardous properties. The hazards may take different forms (mist, vapor, liquid, dust, fume or gas) and affect workers in different ways. The type of substance, the way it’s used, and the form it takes determines its effect and what must be done to avoid harmful exposures. But, there are some basic safety precautions to take when working with or around any hazardous substance.
Labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for substances clearly state their hazards and describe the precautions to take for their safe use. They will also tell you what to do in case of exposure or injury. If you don’t know the hazards or precautions for a substance, don’t use it until you check with your foreman or supervisor.
Always wear the recommended personal protective equipment, such as glasses, gloves or respirator. If your skin or clothing becomes contaminated by the substance, shower or wash the exposed skin areas and change or decontaminate the clothing. Engineering controls, such as exhaust ventilation, may be necessary when using certain substances. Obey any posted signs indicating areas requiring particular caution, no smoking or the necessity for personal protective equipment.
When working with or around chemicals, never take food into the work area and always wash your hands thoroughly before eating. If necessary, shower and change your clothes before going home. Don’t take contaminated clothing home to be laundered, you could expose your family to the contaminant. Properly dispose of clothing designed for single use.
Keep the work area clean so there is less risk of contamination and store substances according to label directions. Because some substances react violently with one another, you must be careful where you store them and which substances you mix together. If there’s a substance leak or spill, keep away from it unless you know what it is and how to safely clean it up and dispose of the cleaning material.
You should also know what to do in case of a substance-related emergency. Know where wash stations are located, where to find and how to use emergency protective equipment, fire extinguishers, and first aid supplies. Also know where to quickly locate the numbers of local medical, fire, and hazard response personnel. You can work safely with a hazardous substance by reading its label, following safe handling procedures, and using recommended protective equipment.