Understanding Chemical Hazards: The Basics

29th October 2014 | chemical safety, hazards, workplace safety

Chemical HazardsThe Difference Between Health Hazards & Physiochemical Hazards

Before you can begin controlling chemical hazards in the workplace you need to understand some of the basics. Chemical hazards are divided into two groups – Health Hazards and Physicochemical (physical chemistry) Hazards.

 

Health Hazards

There are many chemicals that can make you sick or unwell. Exposure to these substances through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion can cause a range of short term (acute) or long term (chronic) health problems.

Typical acute health effects include headaches, dizziness, respiratory irritations, nausea and vomiting. Chronic health effects include nerve damage, contact dermatitis, asthma, cancer and organ damage.

TolueneExample: Toluene is an example of a hazardous chemical found in a wide range of products in workplaces including wall paints, paint thinners, detergents and adhesives. Inhaling Toluene vapour, even at low levels can cause dizziness, confusion, light-headedness, weakness and memory loss. Exposure at high levels can lead to damage of the liver, kidneys, heart, brain and nervous system. Repeated exposure to Toluene by pregnant women may increase the risk of damage to the foetus.

Physicochemical Hazards

Physicochemical Hazards are things like chemical explosions and fires, chemical corrosion and reactions with other substances, which injure people and damage property. These chemicals are usually dangerous when they are inappropriately handled, stored or used.

MEK SolventExample: Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) is an example of a chemical with associated physicochemical hazards. MEK is a common industrial solvent that easily evaporates, creating a highly flammable and explosive vapour.

NEXT STEP: Identifying Chemical Hazards

The two key ways to identify chemical hazards are to carefully study both the product packaging AND the product SDS. Hazardous chemical products and ingredients are found in many items within the workplace including detergents, solvents, degreasers, odour control products, scale removers and surface cleaners.

Find out how to identify chemical hazards >

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