Texas Mutual Workers' Compensation Insurance Company - Work Safe, Texas

It’s Time to
Stop Experimenting
with Chemical Safety

In 2013, a warehouse of ammonium nitrate detonated with the force of 10 tons of TNT at the West Fertilizer Company. The explosion killed 15 people and injured hundreds more. Following 400 interviews, an exhaustive review of witness photos and videos, and meticulous scientific testing over the past three years, federal officials confirmed last month someone intentionally set the fire that sparked the deadly explosion.

Of course, most workplaces don’t store volatile ammonium nitrate. But that doesn’t mean their employees don’t share workspace with hazardous chemicals.

From paint to glue to common cleaning products, we all use chemicals that can harm us.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took steps to protect workers from chemical exposure by revising its hazard communication standard, which went into full effect on June 1, 2016 (See below).

Aside from complying with the revised standard, here are some tips we can all use to protect ourselves from hazardous chemicals.

Remember the basics

Sometimes, you can eliminate the risk associated with a chemical by simply choosing a safer alternative. For example, maybe you can substitute lead-based paint with acrylic-based paint.

Whichever chemical you use, make sure you understand the hazards and know how to protect yourself.

Protective measures include using chemicals only for their intended purpose, ensuring your workspace is adequately ventilated and never mixing chemicals without making sure it’s safe.

Use personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is anything that puts a barrier between you and a hazard. Common PPE for chemical hazards includes respirators, eye protection and gloves. If you use PPE, remember: 1. PPE should fit properly. If it doesn’t, tell your supervisor. 2. You must inspect PPE before each use. If you see damage, don’t use it, and make sure co-workers don’t use it either. 3. PPE is your least-effective protection against hazards, so don’t rely on it.

Keep it clean

Ever get tired of health officials reminding you that washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to steer clear of air-borne illnesses? Brace yourself, because the same advice applies to handling chemicals.

Besides hand-washing, you should clean work surfaces regularly to reduce the risk of contamination. If you or a co-worker spills a chemical, make sure you know how to safely clean it up. In some cases, that will mean calling a professional who understands the hazards.

Store chemicals safely

Texas Mutual recently received a claim involving a worker who put a toxic chemical in a sports drink bottle. He intended to dispose of it later, but instead accidentally drank it. You can avoid a similar fate by never storing chemicals in soda bottles or other common containers. Instead, consult the chemical’s label and safety data sheet for the manufacturer’s storage instructions, and clearly mark and isolate containers that house hazardous chemicals.

Prepare for the unexpected

Despite your best-laid plans, accidents happen. When they do, it is critical you know how to respond. Make sure you understand your employer’s emergency response plan, which should include such things as the location of emergency eyewash stations and instructions for delivering first aid or getting medical attention for victims.

Are you fully compliant with OSHA’s haz comm standard?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hazard communication standard (HCS) helps ensure employees understand the hazards associated with the chemicals they use. OSHA revised the standard in 2012 and rolled it out in phases.

As of June 1, 2016, employers must be fully compliant with the revised HCS.

The revised HCS ushers in new pictograms, chemical labels and safety data sheets, previously called material safety data sheets (SDS). It also required employers to train their employees on the new labels and SDS format by Dec. 1, 2013.

Texas Mutual safety services consultants still hear from employers who weren’t aware OSHA revised the HCS and who have not complied with their training obligations.

See this article for more information about the revised HCS.

From paint to glue to common cleaning products, we all use chemicals that can harm us.