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Chemical Hazards: Definition, Types, Examples and More

The use of chemicals has helped many industries to operate and create innovations needed to supply goods to the market. However, these chemicals can be harmful, even fatal, if not properly managed.

The total fatalities due to chemical hazards reported by The International Labour Organisation reached around 1.1 million workers worldwide annually. By this, strict protocols for hazardous chemicals must be enforced to ensure workplace safety.

Proper management of hazardous chemicals begins with a thorough understanding of them, which you will find in this article. Continue reading to learn the right approaches needed to prevent and mitigate chemical hazards.

What are Chemical Hazards?

Chemical hazards refer to any potential risks that can be caused by hazardous substances and toxic chemical exposures. The potential risks include both health and environmental risks–ranging from skin irritation and asphyxiation, to as far as fire accidents.

In addition, hazardous substances and toxic chemicals can also trigger other workplace threats, such as safety and fire hazards. This is why profound knowledge about these substances is essential to handle them appropriately and avoid preventable accidents.

Types of Chemical Hazards in The Workplace

What counts as chemical hazards varies greatly. It is important to acknowledge the differing characteristics of each substance, allowing for an appropriate handling, and, of course, reducing the risk of dangers caused by them.

The Ministry of Manpower provides a list of hazardous substances that are commonly present in a workplace, as written in the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act, which includes:

  • Carcinogens: Inhalation or direct skin contact with carcinogens poses the risk of cancer. 
  • Corrosive substances: They have the ability to damage and destroy living tissues and materials that come in contact with them, posing a threat to people and objects.
  • Explosives: They are able to rapidly produce an explosion by chemical reactions. Explosives come in both liquid and solid substances.
  • Flammable substances: They are also considered fire hazards as they easily ignite fire or burn, posing a threat of fire accidents or increasing fire severity.
  • Gases under pressure: They usually come in a liquified form and count as one of the chemical hazards because of the potential damage they can cause from leakage or explosion.
  • Irritants: When coming in contact with a body surface, they can cause inflammation or irritations around the skin, eyes, or respiratory tract.
  • Mutagens: They pose the risk of harming DNA strands in living beings. Changes in DNA stands can lead to cancer, which makes some mutagens also considered carcinogens.
  • Organic peroxides: The main hazards related to them include physical damage (e.g., explosion, corrosion, and fire) as well as health risks due to direct contact or swallowing.
  • Oxidising substances: They can increase the levels of oxygen, which poses a risk of causing and intensifying fire.
  • Pyrophoric substances: They are substances that can ignite rapidly when coming in contact with oxygen. They may also ignite below the temperature of 54oC. 
  • Self-heating substances: They are substances, other than pyrophoric substances, that have the ability to self-heat through air exposure.
  • Self-reactive substances: They are thermally unstable liquid or solid substances that can cause exothermic thermal decomposition, even without contact with the air.
  • Sensitisers: Mainly categorised as chemical and explosive sensitisers, exposure to them poses the risk of causing allergic reactions to living tissue as well as increasing explosion propagation.
  • Substances hazardous to the aquatic environment: They pose threats to the aquatic environment, as they are hydrophobic and accumulate in sediment and biota.
  • Substances that emit flammable gases when in contact with water: These substances can instantly flame or release toxic gas by contact with water.
  • Teratogens: These include any substances that pose a risk of natal congenital upon exposure during pregnancy.
  • Toxic substances: They include any substances that pose threats to health through direct contact, inhalation, or swallowing.

Examples of Chemical Hazards in the Workplace

Examples of chemical hazards can vary depending on the industry type. To ensure safety, it is important to specify which category of your workplace falls under.

In the following, we will list examples of common chemical hazards found in major industries that involve the use of chemical substances.

Healthcare

Healthcare industries such as private GP practices and hospitals operate to serve patients daily. They typically use certain chemicals to keep the place hygienic or to support specific medical processes.

However, many of the substances used are classified as chemical hazards, examples are:

  • Disinfectants: They risk causing skin irritation or other health issues via direct contact or inhalation for a prolonged time.
  • Medical gas: Medical gas like pure oxygen poses a fire or health-related risk if it is not stored and handled properly.
  • Laboratory chemicals: Many laboratory chemicals are corrosive, making them capable of damaging other objects or posing threats to people’s health without proper handling.
  • Diagnostic agents: They can be toxic by inhalation or causing irritation via direct skin contact.

Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceutical industries use a wide range of organic and inorganic chemicals. These chemicals act as reagents or active ingredients necessary to produce pharmaceutical products like medicines, vaccines, ointments, and more.

As essential as these chemicals are for pharmaceutical industries, they remain chemical hazards that should be properly handled. The examples include:

  • Hydrochloric acid: It is a corrosive substance that risks causing tissue damage through direct contact or accidental splashes.
  • Acetone: Direct skin contact with this substance poses the risk of irritation, while prolonged exposure may cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Acetic anhydride: This substance is highly corrosive and can severely irritate, and even burn the skin and eyes via direct contact or accidental splashes.
  • Benzyl chloride: This substance is considered a carcinogen and mutagen, which poses the risk of cancer and damage to the DNA strain.
  • Diethyl ether: Direct contact with this substance can irritate the skin, while accidental inhalation can irritate the nose and throat, even leading to dizziness, vomiting, and irregular breathing.

Oil and Gas

The oil and gas industries rely heavily on chemical substances for drilling, production, and refining processes. However, these substances can be chemical hazards that pose both physical and health-related risks. Some of the commonly used substances include:

  • Scale inhibitors: Often used in the oil and gas production process, these chemicals can be dangerous to physical health. Direct contact or splashes can irritate skin and eyes, while inhalation can cause central nervous system effects.
  • Calcium chloride: Risks associated with calcium chloride include skin irritation via direct contact, as well as mouth and throat burns in the event of accidental swallowing.
  • Demulsifiers: These chemicals are flammable and accidental contact or splashes can cause eye and skin irritation.
  • Biocides: They contain carcinogens and toxic properties, which can cause severe health issues.
  • Surfactants: Long-term exposure to surfactants can trigger respiratory issues, while direct contact often causes skin irritation.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry relies on a wide variety of chemicals to produce goods. However, these beneficial substances can also pose risks to health and the environment. Some of the examples include:

  • Ammonia: This chemical is used to make products like plastics, textiles and pesticides. However, it poses chemical hazards which can cause skin and eye burns, and even damage the lungs.
  • Sulfuric acid: It is a corrosive chemical and direct contact with it can damage the skin, eyes, and mouth, while high levels of exposure can even be fatal.
  • Chlorine: It is a bleaching agent that can be toxic, often causing several health-related issues.
  • Propylene: It is commonly used to produce plastics and exposure to it can cause dizziness.
  • Ethylene: Risks associated with this chemical typically include skin damage, headache, dizziness, and even unconsciousness. 
  • Certain dyes: They are used in the manufacturing industry to colour products. Yet, exposure to them can cause dizziness and respiratory issues. 

Agriculture

Chemical substances are widely used in the agriculture industry to control pests, prevent infectious diseases, and promote plant growth. Though useful, the substances used risk of being chemical hazards. Examples are:

  • Fungicides: Fungicide chemicals are used to kill fungi that infect plants. Inhaling such chemicals risks causing throat irritation, sneezing, and coughing.
  • Insecticides: They are used to kill insects and mites. Exposure to these chemicals can cause allergic reactions such as irritation, dizziness, or nausea.
  • Herbicides: These chemicals effectively kill wild herbs that grow around the crops. Yet, exposure to them can cause health-related issues such as irritation, and even cancer.
  • Nitrogen: This chemical helps to promote the growth of crops. However, long-term exposure can be risky to human health, causing dizziness, headache, and even vomiting in many cases.

Construction

Construction works involve the use of chemical substances that can be hazardous to health and the environment. These chemicals include:

  • Adhesives: Direct contact with adhesives can cause skin and eye irritation, while exposure or inhalation risks causing respiratory problems.
  • Protective coatings: Many protective coating materials are flammable, meaning they risk causing or increasing fire accidents.
  • Sealants: Long-term exposure to sealants can be dangerous to the respiratory system, causing asthma or breathing difficulties.
  • Concrete: Prolonged contact with concrete can cause allergic reactions such as irritation and dermatitis. While inhalation of the dust can be problematic to the respiratory system.

How to Control Chemical Hazards in the Workplace

Ensuring workers’ and environmental safety from chemical hazards requires precautions that must be taken. As an employer, you are the one responsible for implementing the following measures. 

  1. Chemical Hazard Assessment

The first step that needs to be carried out is a chemical hazard assessment. Look for the presence of any substances that could harm human health or cause physical accidents.

Considering the nature of certain substances and identifying how workers interact with them is what you need to do to assess the possibility of risks.

Depending on the field of work, the hazardous chemicals can enter the body through inhalation, absorption, injection, and ingestion.

For instance, laboratories in the healthcare industry frequently handle chemicals. This poses a risk of health-related issues through inhalation of toxic substances, or worse, accidental injection.

  1. Administrative Controls

The next step is to implement administrative controls. These entail documenting and categorising chemicals based on their types as depicted in the hazardous chemical labels pictogram.

Following that, establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) that outlines safety rules for interacting with specific chemicals. Displaying safety labels for chemicals around the workplace will also help to ensure everyone handles them with caution.

Last, ensure that workers are given training to follow the SOP that has been made. This promotes adherence to safety protocols, which ultimately reduces accidents caused by hazardous chemicals and saves lives.

  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) use must be enforced, especially in a workplace that frequently handles chemical substances. This can reduce exposure or direct contact with hazardous chemicals that can cause health-related issues.

Gloves, goggles, face shields, respirators, and protective clothing are examples of PPE, designed to provide a barrier to harmful chemicals. 

As PPE is aimed to protect workers, it must be properly fitted, maintained, and replaced as needed to provide effective protection.

  1. Safe Storage and Handling

While chemical substances pose risks to health and the environment, proper storage and handling can significantly reduce these potential threats. For hazardous chemical storage, ensure they are placed in secure, well-ventilated areas.

Label all chemical containers with the correct hazard symbols to prevent accidental misuse or exposure. This labelling helps users understand how to safely interact with the substances, minimising health and environmental risks that may follow.

Additionally, since certain chemicals pose fire hazards, it is essential to store them at the correct temperature to prevent ignition and potential fires.

  1. Emergency Response Plan

The best we can do to maintain safety from the risk of chemical hazards, the potential for disaster remains. Therefore, to reduce the severity and prevent fatalities, implementing a well-defined emergency response plan is crucial.

This includes equipping workers with first aid training and ensuring access to emergency services such as ambulance and fire departments.

  1. Monitoring and Evaluation

A workplace can be a dynamic environment with frequent changes. Changes can also impact the potential of chemical hazards, making regular monitoring and evaluation something that must be carried out.

This involves systematically assessing the effectiveness of safety measures and identifying any new or evolving chemical hazards. As a result, safety protocols remain up-to-date and effective to promptly address any emerging risks.

This proactive approach not only protects the health and well-being of employees but also helps maintain a safe and compliant workplace.

Final Thoughts

Chemical hazards can indeed be a dangerous risk to workers and the workplace’s environment. However, this is not always the case, especially with proper control, including the right emergency response plan.

So, apart from taking the necessary measures to prevent risks from hazardous chemicals, being able to handle unexpected emergencies is as crucial. This is why it is essential to equip workers with first aid training.

Here at Medlink, we have an Occupational First Aid Course, which covers participants with:

  • CPR + AED training
  • Knowledge of workplace safety and health regulations

By availing of this course, you can equip employees with the necessary measures to save lives, in case of severe emergencies from chemical hazards occur.

Moreover, we also offer Private Ambulance Services and Industrial Paramedics, both can be helpful in swiftly responding to emergency cases that require immediate medical attention.

Contact us today for more details.

FAQs

What is the most common type of exposure to chemicals in the workplace?

The most common exposure method to chemicals is inhalation. This is then followed by absorption (skin contact), injection, and ingestion.

What happens if a worker is exposed to harmful chemicals?

This will depend on the type of chemicals being exposed to the worker. Some chemicals can cause skin irritation, while others pose more dangerous risks such as breathing difficulties and even death.

 

About Medlink Healthcare Group

Committed to providing a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem, Medlink Healthcare Group delivers top-notch ambulance services, first-aid courses and industrial paramedics. We aim to empower individuals, businesses and communities to effectively respond in times of medical emergencies, right when it matters the most.

Our first aid courses cover a wide range of topics, including a CPR + AED course, BCLS course, occupational first aid course, and a standard first aid course in Singapore—both accredited by SRFAC. Whether you’re an individual looking to acquire life-saving skills or a business investing in workplace safety and health training, we have the right course for you.

Alongside training programs, our private ambulance services are led by highly trained paramedics and equipped with cutting-edge medical technology. Every second counts; we are always ready to provide prompt and expert care when you need it most. 

Our industrial paramedics solutions can also meet the unique needs of your workplace, from on-call doctors to screening exercises and specialised clinics. We ensure that you have access to the right medical services to keep employees safe and sound, no matter where they are. 

Your journey to safety starts with us. Contact us today and prepare to respond in any emergency.

DISCLAIMER:
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for a comprehensive first-aid course provided by certified professionals. Readers are strongly encouraged to acquire a first aid education to receive the appropriate training and certification.

We do not assume responsibility for any actions taken based on the information provided in this article. Always consult with certified first aid professionals and seek hands-on training to ensure you are well-prepared to handle emergency situations competently.

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