Safety is always one of the main concerns in a workplace. Those who work in laboratory settings are even more exposed to potential harm, especially in those laboratories where handling hazardous or reactive chemicals are part of the daily schedule. In a nutshell, chemical safety hazards are chemical substances that could possibly be a threat to human health.
Almost all chemicals are reactive or responsive to the presence of other chemicals or to certain physical conditions, such as elevated temperature. These reactive properties is a key concern in handling chemicals in the production process of material, chemical, pharmaceutical and food products we utilize. When these chemicals are not handled properly, there can be unwanted results such as harmful consequences such as fires and explosions. These may even cause deaths and injuries to people, severe and negative effects to the environment, and even damage to physical properties.
Chemicals and the procedure they are used in are carefully scrutinized first in order to identify the chemical safety hazards and prepare chemical safety precautions for future use. The Process Safety Management serves as a guideline in preventing chemical hazards in construction and production companies. The companies are mandated by the law to follow these precautions.
Hazardous chemical has been defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a chemical that can be either a physical or a health hazard. A chemical is considered to be a physical hazard if it has at least one of the following attributes: water reactive, combustible liquid, flammable, compressed gas, explosive, oxidizer, organic peroxide, or pyrophoric unstable.
On the other hand, a chemical is deemed as a health hazard if it gives immediate or delayed health effects to those people who are over-exposed to it. Exposure here refers to the dose, route, duration and frequency of the exposure. Health hazardous chemicals are the following: irritants, sensitizers, corrosives, carcinogens, hepatotoxins, toxic, reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, nephrotoxins, agents acting on the hematopoietic system, as well as those who damage the eyes, skin, lungs, and mucous membranes.
Physical chemical hazards are much easier to define than health chemical hazards. Physical hazards can be identified with explosions, fires, extreme temperature or just the presence of large amount of gas or vapors. Health hazards are assessed by the signs and symptoms experience by the over-exposed person such as shortness of breath. The signs and symptoms, of course, vary from person to person.
Although there is no precise way to identify all of the chemical safety hazards in measurable terms, it is still very important to at least be informed of those known physical and health effects in order for one to protect or prevent him or herself from possible danger in handling those hazardous chemicals. As a basic precaution, one is required to wear personal protective equipment when entering a laboratory, much like in a school chemistry laboratory, such as coats, gloves, and goggles. There are also other safety controls installed in the lab, such as fire alarms and extinguishers, showers, and etc.