As safety professionals, we understand that whenever possible, it’s always best to avoid using a toxic material either by eliminating its use (by changing the method or process for example) or by substituting the toxic material with a less hazardous material. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to find a non-toxic substitute that still does the same job both effectively and safely.
This is why proper precautionary measures must be taken for all employees and staff who have the potential to come in contact with toxic materials. This can first be achieved through examining the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all the materials your employees will be handling. These sheets will give you a base to shape your employee safety and handling guides around, but are not the only tool needed for preventing toxic exposure.
The impacts of human exposure to chemicals and other hazardous materials can range from simple skin irritation to long-term illnesses such as cancer. As an employer that is aware of these dangers, it’s important to create a culture of safety for handling, transporting, and storing these kinds of materials. All employees responsible for handling hazardous materials are required by federal regulations to undergo proper hazmat training, but that doesn’t remove your company’s responsibility to provide an environment that is conducive to the safe handling of hazmat materials.
Key Steps to Your Safety
Toxic and hazmat material handling requires creating and maintaining a safe work environment, which is done through education and training, and can be supported by safety warnings and instructional messages, such as safety signs and safety labels. Key steps for your safety program include:
- Assess the risks that exist in the workplace. Know which materials represent hazards.
- Provide employees adequate training and information about any hazardous materials present. As mentioned before, federal training is a prerequisite, but is often only a minimum obligation. Don’t be afraid to expand safety consultation and procedures beyond those required by law and encourage established best practice procedures on employees.
- Consider potential hazards and plan ahead. Have arrangements and procedures in place to handle emergency circumstances that may arise from hazmat spills or exposure. This means making sure employees understand emergency procedures, including evacuation, cleanup or what to do in case of fire. Make sure emergency equipment such as eye wash and shower stations are accessible, kept clean, and are tested routinely. Employees should be trained with first-aid skills and how to respond to co-workers who may be injured or experience chemical exposure.
- Always provide employees with the proper personal protection equipment (PPE). Old or damaged PPE should be replaced, and the PPE should be inspected before each use. Proper control measures like ventilation hoods should always be used and routinely inspected.
- Ensure all hazardous materials are properly marked. Make sure all hazmat containers are adequately labeled and that all chemicals are stored in the appropriate containers.
- Keep all hazardous materials stored properly. Keep chemicals in dry, cool, and ventilated areas, and separate incompatible materials. Always keep lids closed – meaning leak-proof and vapor-tight – on all hazmat containers. Make sure these storage areas are free from items that might cause trips, falls, or spills, and free from materials that might encourage pests or rodents.
- Make sure your hazardous waste storage is never over 55 gallons in one area, as this can lead to costly fines during an inspection and is a hazard.
- Always keep work areas clean; remind employees that their area should be cleaned at the start and end of their shift. This applies not just to clutter, but cleaning work surfaces frequently to minimize risk of contamination or exposure.
- Never eat or drink while handling hazardous materials, and always wash hands after using, handling, or transporting hazardous chemicals.
- Employees handling hazardous materials should always read the labels to understand what they’re working with and have the SDS accessible before using any materials in order to understand how to handle a spill or exposure to that chemical.
- Remind employees to immediately report any concerns about damaged containers or potential leaks or spills.
Protection With Professional Sources
Overall, when it comes to handling toxic and hazardous materials, outfitting your workplace with the proper signage allows for you to foster a safe work environment and fulfill your duty to warn. In certain situations, OSHA requires that workers be notified in clear language and symbols that danger is present. Failure to post or correctly position required signage when working around hazmat materials can result in your company receiving citations and fines. If there is an injury or death as a result of inadequate training and signage, your company could be fined or be named in a lawsuit.
At Clarion Safety, our products help you meet compliance requirements and best practice standards. Not only do we offer OSHA-compliant signage , but our safety sign and label products can help you meet ANSI and ISO best practices as well as specific regulatory requirements such as WEEE, RoHs, REACH, UL, GHS, Prop 65, and more.