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Managing common hazardous
materials in the workplace

Many companies use chemicals or other potentially hazardous substances in their day-to-day operations. An industrial company could use chemicals in its manufacturing operations, an agricultural firm often relies on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and some businesses in the medical industry have to handle infectious substances.

Some hazardous workplace materials are less noticeable. Acids, adhesives, solvents and disinfectants can be dangerous if improperly handled, as can heavy metals like mercury and lead.

A spill can affect the person directly involved, but the substances could become airborne or stream into other areas, affecting other workers and potentially halting business operations.

Proper practices for handling hazardous material can directly affect the health of employees. Failure to implement required safety procedures can result in the loss of a business license or permit, lawsuits and loss of customers and employees.

Check out these hazardous materials safety steps that companies need to take to ensure compliance with safety rules and a secure workplace.

Mark all hazardous materials properly

Every business employee needs to know if they are dealing with hazardous materials. Therefore, the first step in every safety plan is to label all dangerous substances. As long as the labeling is clear, you can help prevent someone from inadvertently opening or spilling hazardous materials.

Companies with dangerous substances on their premises need to use the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for hazmat classification and labeling. Specialized GHS label printers can produce the materials you need to comply with labeling regulations for all hazardous materials.

These labels can help with compliance, and they can also help with common workplace safety issues. Without labels, even a cautious worker could pick up the wrong item or use inappropriate precautions for a given substance. These tags can also help combat optimism bias, a common workplace safety issue that involves people exercising less caution because they believe that they will not be the victim of an accident.

Companies rely on commercial and industrial label printers to create warning labels that can remain intact in harsh environments. You can also use portable label printers to produce or replace warning signs right when you need them.

Complete all necessary training

Proper training ensures that employees know how to handle dangerous materials in the workplace. The same approach can also help heavy equipment operators work safely.

Hazardous material training typically focuses on how to handle and store chemicals and other dangerous substances. Employees also learn how to safely respond to spills when they occur. Training can focus on specific substances so that employees know how these materials will react if spilled in the given environment.

Employers may mandate training for workers who operate in the vicinity of dangerous substances. They can facilitate onsite training, or they can seek safety training through third-party services.

Employees concerned about hazardous materials in their workplace can also seek training independently or take a course before seeking jobs to make themselves more attractive to employers.

Only use materials for their intended purposes

Hazardous materials typically have specific purposes, though an employee may try to use a substance for a different purpose. While doing so may make sense logically, it can lead to unexpected problems.

Other individuals may come into contact with the dangerous material because they don’t expect it to be present on a surface. There is also a danger of the substance or its fumes becoming airborne. Furthermore, it could interact in unexpected and dangerous ways with other substances in the area.

Proper labeling gives employees clear directions and parameters for the use of a substance. Training can also help employees understand when it is safe to use specific materials — and when it’s not.

Never eat or drink around hazardous waste

Eating and drinking around hazardous materials can lead to significant health problems. Though this may seem obvious at first thought, it can be easy to overlook this practice while trying to stay hydrated at work or having a quick snack to boost your energy.

A company can help avoid these problems by posting signs to warn employees and visitors that eating or drinking in a specific area is unsafe. They can also notify employees that workplace equipment, such as refrigeration units, was used to store chemicals or other hazardous substances and should not be used for food.

Companies should also train employees on proper decontamination steps, including washing hands and removing protective equipment, before eating or drinking.

Use proper Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to gear worn to prevent exposure to hazardous materials. The type of PPE you need will depend on the setting. Common examples include rubber gloves, a face mask, eye protection, steel-toed boots, hard hats and full-body suits.

In addition to masks, gloves and eye protection, you may need a respirator when working around hazardous materials that could become airborne.

A workplace hazard assessment will define the dangers that could necessitate the use of PPE. After the assessment, employers are responsible for providing and maintaining necessary PPE and training employees to use the equipment properly.

Employees may not be allowed to work in a hazardous material area until they have completed the necessary PPE training. They are also responsible for following the proper procedures and maintaining their equipment during work.

Store and dispose of hazardous materials properly

Hazmat storage and disposal can also affect workplace safety. The first step in this process is to keep a detailed inventory of all dangerous substances on the premises. You also need to ensure proper storage in a secure but well-ventilated space. Clear signage warns employees of the dangers and notifies them about PPE requirements when they enter the storage area.

You can limit access to storage rooms so that only authorized personnel may obtain the materials. Finally, air quality monitors can sound an alarm if there is a leak or spill within the storage space.

Safe disposal

You also need to take specific steps when disposing of chemicals. Not only could improper disposal harm employees, but it could also go against pollution regulations and harm people in the nearby area.

After you understand the regulations related to toxic waste disposal, you typically need to appropriately label the material and either hire an authorized disposal service or take the material to a certified waste-management location.

You also need to log the disposal and get any necessary paperwork to prove compliance with waste disposal laws.

Report any damage or spills immediately

The first step in a hazardous material spill is to report the incident. Companies should have a response plan in place to deal with dangerous spills, and the sooner the problem gets reported, the easier the issue is to clean up and contain. Furthermore, the plan will alert everyone to put on appropriate PPE to keep from touching or inhaling the material.

Uncontained spills can cause health and safety issues, and they could necessitate shutting down operations and evacuating employees. Emergency responders can take simple steps, such as deploying absorbents to soak up the spill, to limit the damage to people and equipment.