Working with Dangerous Substances

Almost all of us will face some sort of dangerous substances at work or during our daily life and it’s important that we understand how to deal with the risks.

Although the idea of dangerous substances can conjure up pictures of science laboratories and radioactive waste, the bulk of them are more everyday things like cleaning products, bleach and paint.

The risks can be found everywhere from hair salons and workshops, to factories and offices with workers protected from exposure by a number of European Laws.

Most of the chemicals faced in the workplace aren’t harmful at all if they are used properly, although some will need more careful treatment than others.

What Are Dangerous Substances?

A dangerous substance can be anything that could potentially cause you harm, including many everyday products such as glue and paint.

The legal definition covers any liquid, solid, gas, chemical or biological material that could pose a risk to workers’ health and safety. There are around 100,000 different substances recognized across Europe, with almost every workplace facing some sort of exposure risk.

Some of the most common substances include:

  • Cleaning products.
  • Glue, paint, varnish and oil.
  • Petrol.
  • Solvents.
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

Some further risks can be created as a result of processes in the workplace – for example welding fumes or Wood Waste can cause serious health problems for staff.

What Are The Risks?

Depending on the type of substance and the type of exposure, the risks faced by workers can vary dramatically. The harm caused by these materials can range from relatively minor skin complaints, all the way to chemicals that cause serious diseases like Cancer.

The conditions that can be caused by exposure to dangerous substances include:

Dealing With Dangerous Substances

The majority of chemicals found in the average workplace will only pose a very minor threat, which can be reduced even further by following some basic safety rules.

As with all health and safety issues you should carry out a risk assessment to see what problems could arise, and how you can minimise the chances of an accident.

A comprehensive risk assessment should include:

  • A look at the substances that could harm workers. You should try to identify all the potential hazards in the workplace.
  • Further information on all the substances in the workplace and the harm they could cause.
  • The levels of exposure that workers face.
  • Any training or instructions that could help reduce risks.
  • A rank of the levels of risk looking at the chance of workers being exposed, and the harm it would cause.
  • Procedures that reduce the risks faced by staff.

If you are worried about working with dangerous substances you should check the procedures and health and safety polices at your workplace.

The main issues for most people will be the safe handling and storage of common substances found in many workplaces. All chemicals or cleaning agents should be clearly marked and stored in a locked area. They should also have the appropriate warning and hazard labels attached.

You should always use the proper equipment and any protective clothing provided, while obeying any safety precautions advised by your employer.

Workers in many sectors are protected by European law which limits exposure to certain chemicals and provides regulations for dealing with them.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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