Even mundane DIY tasks pose a threat to the unwary chemical hazards. Do not forget to follow safe practices, such as using gloves.
The average household or workplace contains a host of different chemicals which we may be exposed to at any time, for example,
Through contact with the skin
Via the lungs
Through the digestive system
There are also chemicals in industry and agriculture which we may be exposed to without realizing it.
Is chemical hazards harmful?
Most of the chemical hazards do not usually affect us adversely. But some can be harmful, for example as a result of misuse, or excessive use, or as a result of long-term exposure.
Irritant dermatitis, a skin condition which may be brought on by regular use of chemicals such as bleach, soap powder, paint or solvents.
Allergic contact dermatitis, a skin condition which occurs when the chemical stimulates an immune response in the body. Further stimulation causes an allergic reaction.
It can be caused, for example, by soap or detergent.
Burns, especially due to caustic chemicals such as acids or alkalis.
Chemical hazards can also cause eye damage as a result of contact with corrosive liquids or fumes. Inhalation may cause.
Constriction of the airways, leading to wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Burns to the inside of the lungs, especially since a result of inhaling the fumes from chemicals such as caustic soda (used in cleaning drains).
Paralysis, if the chemical enters the bloodstream and affects the nervous
system. For example, some insecticides used in farming were originally developed as nerve gasses.
Ingestion may cause
Poisoning, if the chemical is absorbed into the body and interferes with healthy metabolism, it can lead to liver damage, renal failure, and coma, for example.
Where is there a risk of chemical hazards?
Chemical hazards can occur in the home, in the workplace, and in the environment.
In the home: Young children, in particular, are at risk from chemicals in the home. Cleaning agents, pesticides, solvents and many other potentially lethal liquids (even plant food) may be swallowed in mistake for a soft drink.
Gardening products, such as slug pellets, or drugs, like aspirin or paracetamol, may be mistaken for sweets. Even vitamin tablets can be harmful if swallowed in quantity.
Any products you may be unsure of should be kept in child-proof containers, out of children’s reach, or locked away.
Many household cleaners contain chemicals which may be harmful if inhaled, particularly in a confined space, or if they come into contact with the eyes or skin.
Caustic cleaners can often be replaced with simple soap-based alternatives (many of which work just as well).
They should only be used in well-ventilated areas and with gloves or other protective clothing.
In the workplace: Many industrial processes involve potentially harmful chemicals, and their handling is strictly controlled by legislation.
Good ventilation, safe methods of working and chemical disposal, and clothing (such as masks, gloves, acid-resistant shoes, overalls).
However, protective clothing is never more important than making the workplace safe. Some chemicals not commonly regarded as hazardous can also be harmful, such as oil mist in machine shops.
Which can lead to lung disease, and soap or paint, which can cause skin complaints, especially after long-term use?
Offices may also contain harmful chemicals. Formaldehyde, given off by new soft furnishings, may cause headaches and eye irritation.
Correcting fluid and some adhesives may contain Trichlorethane, which gives off a potentially lethal vapor, although average levels of exposure pose little risk.
Photocopiers may give off selenium, cadmium sulfide and ozone, which can cause throat irritation and respiratory problems.
In the environment: Instances of exposure to chemicals which find their way into the environment have made the headlines in recent years.
For example, the accidental release of too much aluminum sulfate into the water at Camelford, in Cornwall, was said by residents to have led to illnesses such as digestion and joint disorders.
Given this, the most responsible action is to contact the local Environmental Health Officer for specialist advice. The number can be found in your telephone directory.
How can I avoid chemical hazards?
DO disposes of chemicals safely. Your local authority will advise you.
DO make sure there is proper ventilation whenever using chemicals which produce harmful fumes, for example, paint, paint stripper, and adhesives.
DO wear gloves, masks, and other protective clothing.
DO read the warnings on chemical labels and follow instructions to the letter.
DO abide by all regulations on the safe handling of chemicals at work, and also ensure others keep to them.
DO NOT leave chemicals in reach of children. If chemicals are stored in a shed, make sure it is kept locked.
DO NOT mix toilet cleaners. Some are acid-based, some are alkali based, a combination will produce chlorine gas, which attacks the throat J and lungs.
DO NOT store chemicals in unmarked containers. All chemicals should be kept in their original containers. With the labeling intact.
DO NOT keep chemicals you cannot identify, or have no short-term use for.