How to Prevent Chemical Hazards at Work

A recent study has found that exposure to harmful substances or environments at work led to 424 thousand nonfatal injuries. Does your workplace use hazardous chemicals? 

If you don’t know the types of chemical hazards and risks associated with using chemicals, you are putting yourself and your staff at risk. Exposure to chemicals can be dangerous. It’s important to protect yourself and your staff when working with toxic substances.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about chemical safety in the workplace. Learn how to read safety data sheets so you have an understanding of the products you’re working with.

Read on to discover the facts about proper industrial hygiene. Gain peace of mind knowing you are protecting both yourself and those around you from harmful substances.

Types of Workplace Chemical Hazards

It’s important to know about the different types of chemical hazards you could find in the work environment. An awareness of this is the first step toward preventing injuries from chemical exposure.

In the workplace, there are various types of chemical hazards. These hazardous substances are into 9 categories.


This includes substances like carbon monoxide and cyanide. A chemical asphyxiant prevents the body from using oxygen. They do this by interfering with the transfer of oxygen through the bloodstream.


These can cause noticeable and permanent changes to a material when they touch it. Chemical corrosives can also cause a reaction in the human body. It’s likely to do this at the point of contact.

When corrosive chemicals combine with other substances, they can cause chemical exposure in the body.

Examples of corrosive chemicals include sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide.


Chemical irritants can harm a person’s skin, respiratory tract, or eyes. Irritants can be slightly, moderately, or highly water-soluble.

Symptoms of exposure to these hazards can include rashes. They may also cause inflammation, coughing, redness, or hemorrhaging. Usually, the illnesses caused by irritants are severe but short-term. Some people may experience long-lasting health effects.

Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to certain chemicals. This can be fatal or have long-lasting health implications. Examples of irritants include nickel chloride and chromic acid.


These are also referred to as allergens. They can cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are repeatedly exposed to some chemicals over time.
The reactions to these chemicals, which include chlorine and alkalis, differ from person to person. The reaction can either be chronic or acute.

Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can result in swelling of the airway or even serious illnesses such as lung disease. Diseases like contact dermatitis and asthma are common among those who are over-exposed to these types of chemicals.


These are chemicals that cause cancer. Even small amounts of carcinogens can be very harmful to human health.
The harmful effects may not appear until several years after exposure. There are more than 200 known chemicals to be human carcinogens. Examples include benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium, and vinyl chloride.


Mutagens are chemicals that can cause changes to the DNA and RNA of a cell. These changes can lead to cancer and disrupt natural biological processes. They can also cause problems with specific organs.
Examples of chemical mutagens include benzene, hydrogen peroxide, and ionizing radiation.


These can harm the development of a fetus and lead to birth defects. Chemical teratogens can also affect the course of pregnancy. Some examples of chemical teratogens are organic mercury compounds, thalidomide, and ionizing radiation.


Reactive chemicals are substances that can cause an explosion when mixed. This can happen with non-chemical substances like water or air.
Examples of reactive chemicals include benzoyl peroxide, nitric acid, and silane.


The term “flammable” describes chemicals that can easily catch fire or burn when they come into contact with oxygen. Some examples of flammable chemicals are methanol, propane, acetone, and butane.

Common Chemicals You Risk Exposure To

Employers must inform and train their employees on the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace. Below are the most common chemicals employees may have exposure to.

  • Lead
  • Pesticides
  • Aluminum
  • Mercury
  • Acids
  • Asbestos
  • Silica
  • Petroleum
  • Benzene

How Chemicals Enter the Body

There are many ways that chemicals can enter the body. We’ve listed the main ways below.


When a person breathes in, chemicals can enter their body through the airways. This is one of the most common ways that chemicals enter our bodies.


Chemicals can also enter our bodies through our skin or eyes. When these skin contact or eye contact points come into contact with certain chemicals, they can enter the body and cause harm.


You can also ingest chemicals (eaten or swallowed). This happens when pesticides, herbicides, or other toxic agents contaminate food or water.


If a person is injected with a chemical even through an open wound, it can penetrate the bloodstream and cause harm.

Symptoms of Chemical Exposure

The duration and severity of the effects of a chemical depend on its toxicity and the amount of exposure.

Immediate but temporary effects like headache or skin irritation can be caused by some solvents. Yet, prolonged exposure to other solvents can lead to chronic effects like cancer or nervous system damage.

Short-term symptoms include:

  • Temporary headache and skin irritation
  • Burns
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness or confusion
  • Respiratory problems like coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Eye irritations such as stinging or redness
  • Skin rashes, itching, blisters, or corneal burns

Long-term symptoms include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nervous system damage or paralysis
  • Cancer, reproductive issues, and hormonal imbalances
  • Organ damage or failure

Other Consequences of Exposure

In addition to the physical symptoms, some people may experience psychological effects. This can include depression or anxiety. Exposure to certain chemicals that have neurotoxic properties can cause these symptoms.

Long-term exposure to hazardous chemicals can also affect your mental health. This includes mercury compounds. Mercury is a toxic metal that can cause neurological damage. This includes cognitive impairment and behavioral changes.

If your staff is working with or around hazardous materials, they must wear the proper protective gear. Also, you should train staff to follow safety procedures. This helps to reduce their exposure and protect their health.

It is also important to note that even low levels of exposure can lead to long-term health effects. It is best to avoid contact with hazardous chemicals as much as possible. If you suspect exposure to chemicals, make sure that you take the proper safety precautions. After the incident, track any symptoms.

Ways to Prevent Exposure to With Chemicals

Preventing chemical exposure is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee. Protocols should be in place for each to prevent workplace injury.

Employer’s Role

As the employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure there are safeguards in place. These will help prevent exposure and contamination.

Employers should take steps to create a safe work environment by:

  • Provide proper safety gear like protective clothing, gloves, goggles, or face masks
  • Ensure that all workers receive training on hazardous materials and safety protocols
  • Implementing safety protocols that all staff must adhere to
  • Regularly inspect equipment and machinery for any signs of wear or damage
  • Provide information about the risks of chemicals
  • Creating an emergency response plan for accidents or spills

Employee’s Role

It is also important for employees to follow safety procedures, use the proper protective gear, and take steps to protect themselves from chemical exposure.

Employees should:

  • Carefully read labels and instructions on hazardous materials or chemicals
  • Follow safety protocols and keep up with regular training
  • Wear the appropriate protective gear while handling hazardous materials
  • Alert management immediately of any potential risks or hazards
  • Be aware of their surroundings
  • Take extra caution in areas with a higher risk of exposure
  • Know the location of safety showers and eye wash stations

How to Read Safety Data Sheets

All hazardous materials must have a safety data sheet (SDS) available. The SDS is an important resource for understanding the risks of a product and ways to prevent exposure to it.

The SDS will provide vital information. It includes the chemical’s physical properties as well as health hazards and protective steps. It also gives details about first aid measures and disposal instructions.

Employers and employees alike should become familiar with reading and understanding the SDS. This will help ensure everyone is taking the proper steps to maintain a safe work environment.

Information on an SDS

An SDS has 16 different categories. Every chemical in your inventory should have one.

Although there is no strict law on how this document should look, they must all include the following categories.

  • Chemical identity
  • Hazards identification
  • Composition/ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Firefighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other information

Each category breaks down into further subheadings. This gives the user all the information they need about the chemical.

You can read the official guidelines on Safety Data Sheets from OSHA here.

Managing Workplace Chemical Hazards

Employers can use the Hierarchy of Controls strategy developed by NIOSH. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also provides guidance on this.

We’ve listed the recommended ways to control chemical hazards. We’ve listed them in order of effectiveness, from most effective to least effective.


This is the most effective way of managing chemical hazards. It involves substituting hazardous chemicals for less hazardous alternatives and/or eliminating them from the work environment completely.

Examples of elimination and substation include:

  • Replace hazardous chemicals with non-toxic alternatives whenever possible
  • Identify any unnecessary sources of chemical exposure in the workplace
  • Use equipment that reduces the need for hazardous chemicals

Engineering Controls

This incorporates any changes you could make to equipment, processes, or the physical layout of a workplace. The aim of this is to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Examples of engineering controls include:

  • Install ventilation systems that can help filter out hazardous fumes and particles from the air
  • Use LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) systems to remove chemical fumes from the workplace
  • Install barriers and/or enclosures around equipment that emits harmful chemicals

Administrative Controls

These involve changes to the way work activities are scheduled, carried out, and documented. Examples include providing training for employees on hazardous chemicals or revising safety procedures.

  • Implement safety measures such as regular inspections and hazard assessments
  • Invest in employee training
  • Make sure that employees follow set procedures when handling hazardous substances

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This is a last-resort measure. It includes gloves, face shields, respirators, and personal protective clothing. Employees should use PPE only when there is no other more effective control method.

Its important to use the Hierarchy of Controls. This should act as a guide when managing workplace chemical hazards. Every situation is different and employers need to use their judgment to determine the most appropriate measures for their particular workplace.

  • Provide employees with the appropriate PPE when needed
  • Make sure that all PPE is regularly inspected and maintained to ensure it is in working condition
  • Ensure employees receive adequate training on how to use and care for their PPE correctly.

Assessing Chemical Risk

Managing risks from many chemical substances may appear daunting. One way you can control chemical hazards effectively is by dividing the process into four distinct phases.

Identify the Risk

The process of identifying risks involves conducting an onsite inspection.

This covers all areas of your workplace that may contain hazardous chemicals and could pose a potential threat to people.

Assess the Risks

After identifying the potential risks of hazardous chemicals, it is important to perform a risk assessment.

This will help you determine the severity and likelihood of a hazardous incident occurring. This will allow you to calculate the size of the risk.

By performing a risk assessment in your work area, you can evaluate the consequences of someone being exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Control of Chemicals

After evaluating the risks and understanding their severity, you can use this information to decide the most effective ways to manage the risks.

This can involve implementing various controls like:

  • Engineering solutions such as safety cabinets
  • Administrative measures including stricter inventory controls for chemicals
  • Substitution of hazardous chemicals with less dangerous alternatives
  • Providing employees with the proper PPE (personal protective equipment
  • Evaluating Effectiveness

Create a System

After establishing and implementing controls in your work areas, the next step is to sustain them.

This involves periodically evaluating their effectiveness and putting in place a proactive system to maintain their efficacy.

This system typically includes scheduled risk assessments and regular inspection and maintenance routines.

Invest in Personal Protective Equipment

To cut risks, it is important to not solely depend on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Only use PPE as the final option after implementing other efficient control measures, and if the risk still persists.

Using PPE is an option for temporary protection until more advanced safety measures are in place. PPE can enhance existing higher-level safety measures when performing hazardous tasks. This might include spray-painting and abrasive blasting.

Here are some essential pieces of PPE kit you may want to invest in:

Chemical Resistant Glasses or Goggles

Chemical-resistant goggles provide a barrier between the eyes and hazardous chemicals.

These safety glasses protect against impacts, splashes, and flying particles. They are clear lenses with an adjustable fit to ensure maximum protection, comfort, and visibility when working with dangerous chemicals.


Respirators are an important piece of PPE that can prevent the inhalation of hazardous dust and fumes.

Respirator masks filter out particles in the air, such as those emitted from welding or painting. They come in a variety of styles, including half-face and full-face models with cartridges for filtering specific types of particles.

Respirators can be an effective way to reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous materials.

Hearing Protection

Hearing protection is a critical component of PPE that can help reduce the risk of hearing loss caused by loud noises in the workplace.

It is important to wear ear plugs or ear muffs when exposed to high levels of noise that can damage the ears. Ear plugs and ear muffs are available in different sizes and styles to fit comfortably while providing sound protection.

Safety Footwear and Shoe Covers

Safety footwear is a must-have for any job requiring walking or standing on hazardous surfaces. They are also essential if the job involves maneuvering heavy objects.

Safety boots offer foot protection from slips, trips, and falls, as well as impact injuries caused by falling objects. They are constructed from heavy-duty materials to provide durability and slip resistance. Safety shoes come in a variety of styles with features such as steel toe caps, waterproofing, and insulation for cold weather.

Shoe covers are essential for workers in labs, medical facilities, and manufacturing plants. They help protect feet from potential contamination or hazardous materials. Shoe covers come in reusable and disposable varieties to ensure a safe working environment.

Chemical Resistant Gloves

These protect the hands from exposure to chemical agents that might otherwise cause harm.

Chemical-resistant gloves come in many different materials. This includes latex, nitrile, and neoprene. They protect against various types of chemicals depending on their composition.

It is important to select the right type of gloves for the chemicals being handled to offer maximum protection.

Coveralls and Apron

Coveralls and aprons are necessary for workers that come into contact with hazardous substances, such as oils, solvents, paints, and other materials.

Coveralls fit over the entire body to protect from head-to-toe contamination.

They are made of thick material that is resistant to tears and punctures. Aprons are also designed to shield against a wide range of chemicals and provide protection from splashes.

The Importance of Controlling Chemical Hazards in Your Business

As a business owner, it’s important that you understand what happens if you fail to control chemical hazards in your business.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals can cause serious health problems for your employees. If you’re found negligent in controlling chemical hazards, you may be liable for any damages that occur.

  • You could be held liable for any injuries or illnesses that occur as a result of negligence
  • Employees exposed to hazardous chemicals may develop serious health conditions
  • Potential payment of ongoing treatment for staff
  • Costly fines for your company or criminal record

Employee Rights if They Are Exposed to Chemicals in the Workplace

Remember that your workers have certain rights, no matter what. These rights are on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website.

They include the following:

  • Employees have the right to receive workplace safety and health training in a language they understand
  • Employees should only be allowed to use machines and other forms of equipment that have been tested for safety
  • Employees should have access to safety equipment
  • Employees should be able to easily report workplace injuries or illness
  • Employees should be able to get copies of medical records of injuries
  • Employees can request results of tests taken to find hazards in the workplace
  • Employees are protected from retaliation from the employer
  • Employees can report misconduct to OSHA and use their legal rights

What Should Staff Do if Theyve Been Exposed to Chemicals in the Workplace

If an employee suspects he or she has been exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace, the best action is to get medical attention immediately.

They should then do the following;

  • Report the accident to the manager, supervisor, or person in charge of documenting workplace injury
  • Write a detailed account of what happened including timings and locations
  • Give the names of any witnesses
  • State the medical treatment they received
  • Report the injury to their healthcare provider with details of the chemical exposure
  • They may need to liaise with a chemical exposure attorney for serious cases
  • Document any ongoing symptoms

Need Help Preventing Chemical Hazards at Work?

Employees have the right to a safe work environment and should be aware of their rights if they suspect chemical hazards in the workplace. It is important for employers to have a strategy in place to help combat chemical exposure.

To help protect your staff from hazardous chemicals and maintain safety standards at your business, consider KHA Online SDS. We are the industry-leading software for providing Safety Data Sheet Management Services. Our comprehensive system allows you to stay compliant more efficiently while ensuring employee safety in the workplace. Get started today by signing up for our free demo!