Photo: Mark Griffiths
Chemical burns are a hazard that can occur in a number of industries and affect a number of workers. That is why it is critical that workers be trained on the correct procedure for handling chemicals as well as what to do in the case of an incident. Training on how to work safely with chemicals in order to avoid burns should be provided for all workers, not only those directly in contact with chemicals but all those on site.
There a few practical guidelines that should be followed in order to reduce the likelihood of a chemical burn however workers also need to be trained in the correct emergency procedures should these guidelines fail to prevent exposure.
- Those in control of the site should first determine whether chemical use is absolutely necessary. Can the hazard be replaced by something less hazardous? If not ensure workers are properly trained on how to handle the hazardous material.
- Workers should also be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and trained on its correct use. Workers should ensure that PPE are always worn when handling the chemicals and the company’s safety procedures are always followed.
- Workers should make sure they read all labels and materials safety data sheets that accompany chemicals for their own safety.
- Chemicals should be kept away from the access of untrained or inexperienced workers and should be locked away. Warning signs should be posted around these areas.
- Material safety data sheets (MSDS) from the chemical supplier for all hazardous substances at the workplace should be used and place in a folder with a list of chemicals used and stored in the workplace. Make the MSDS and risk assessments available to workers who use the chemicals at all times so they can refer to them when in doubt.
- Emergency numbers should be posted around the workplace and in easy access to workers. The numbers posted should include poison information numbers and should be kept next to the phone.
- Only use chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
In the event that workers cannot avoid a burn they should know how to react in an emergency. Employers should train all employees in chemical burn first aid because this will help combat the fatalities due to misuse of chemicals.
- As soon as a chemical burn occurs, remove all the contaminated clothing immediately to prevent becoming injured further.
- Wash the affected area with a saline solution to wash away excess chemicals.
- Should the chemical enter the eye area, the worker should rinse the eye area immediately until they are able to get medical attention.
- The affected worker should seek immediate medical attention
- Cover the affected area with a bandage to prevent dirt from entering the wound.
Watch out for symptoms of chemical burns such as chest pains, seizures, dizziness, coughing headaches, numbness, irritated skin, shortness of breath and in extreme cases a heart attack may result.
If workers, supervisors, employers and contractors ensure the proper safety procedures are in place and being followed, the workplace will be a much safer place.
There are occasions when despite following all the right procedures, accidents still happen. In this instance workers should remember their emergency response training by staying calm and raising the alarm. Warn other workers of the hazard to prevent its harm spreading. Then get help, inform supervisors, WH&S representative, first aid worker and then fellow workers. Also ensure emergency services are called if the incident is serious.