Over 13,000 deaths a year in the UK are the result of exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace, according to recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In order to reduce this number, it is critical for employees to know how to use hazardous substances correctly, how to store them and how to dispose of hazardous substances in the workplace. In the event of an incident, spill kit training for hazardous substances can help to prevent injuries.
This article will give you a broad overview of what hazardous substances are, and how to handle, store and dispose of them correctly.
What are Hazardous Substances?
A hazardous substance is any chemical that can cause harm, as defined by the HSE. This definition includes substances that are flammable, explosive, toxic and can oxidise. Hazardous substances are usually grouped into four classifications:
- Biological agents, such as bacteria, fungi or viruses
- Natural substances, including flour, grain or dust
- Substances produced by work tasks, for example, soldering fumes or wood dust
- Chemicals produced or used in the workplace, such as cleaning agents, solvents or adhesives
Where Can You Find Information About Hazardous Substances?
Under the UK REACH Regulation suppliers and manufacturers of hazardous substances must supply safety data sheets (SDS) for any substance identified as dangerous under the Dangerous Substances Directive 67/548/EEC. Safety data sheets include information such as what the properties of the substance are, as well as the health, physical and environmental hazards.
SDS also include information about required protective measures and precautions necessary for storing, handling and transporting the substance.
What are the Legal Requirements for Hazardous Substances?
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provide the legal framework for what employers are required to do in respect to the hazardous substances they store, transport or use. COSHH requires employers to take steps to control substances that are hazardous to health. This legislation covers substances such as:
- Products Containing Chemicals
- Gases And Asphyxiating Gases
- Biological Agents
- Germs That Cause Diseases
Lead, asbestos and radioactive substances each have their own specific regulations and so are not covered under COSHH.
What Are the Duties of a Person Handling the Hazardous Substance?
COSHH provides guidelines for both employees and employers. Under COSHH, any employee that handles a hazardous substance must:
- Use any and all control measures provided
- Abide by all regulations and follow relevant procedures
- Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Store PPE and any equipment properly
- Report any defects with equipment or any spills, breakages, or accidents
- If required, participate in medical check-ups
- Use cleaning and showering facilities at work
- Attend all health and safety instruction or training sessions
COSHH requires employers to:
- Protect workers from hazardous substances by implementing control measures
- Ensure risk assessments and checks are carried out regularly
- Provide sufficient information, instruction, and training
- Provide adequate PPE
- Ensure employees handling hazardous materials are supervised
- Develop procedures to deal with accidents and emergencies
How Do You Handle Chemicals Safely?
To handle chemicals in a safe and responsible manner, an employee should firstly know as much as they can about the chemical in question. They should read any labels and follow all instructions given by the manufacturer on the SDS.
Do safety data sheets come with every hazardous substance supplied? The answer is yes, all hazardous substances in the UK must come with a safety data sheet.
However, a safety data sheet is not a risk assessment. Any time a chemical is to be used it should be assessed according to COSHH guidelines. After a risk assessment has been completed, effective control measures must be implemented. These measures can include the use of appropriate PPE or having adequate ventilation in the work area, for example.
Store Hazardous Substances Appropriately
All hazardous substances should be stored in sturdy, corrosion-resistant (where applicable) containers that are clearly labelled. Hazardous substances should never be stored in bottles or containers that are designed for another purpose, such as food and drink containers.
Large containers or heavy containers should never be kept above shoulder height. Any incompatible substances, such as acids and bases, must be kept separately. Chemicals should bever be kept under sinks as water leaks may cause toxic reactions.
Storage shelves should be fit for purpose and easily accessible. Appropriate storage must be used. For instance, flammable solvent cabinets, fridges or freezers, or cabinets with forced ventilation.
Take Special Precautions with Acids & Bases
Why is it important to practice safe handling of acids and bases? Acids and bases are used in many workplaces. Many of these substances are highly corrosive and can also be flammable. If certain acids and bases are mixed, they can produce violent chemical reactions that can result in the release of toxic gas. Acids and bases should always be handled with care and stored separately.
Dispose of Hazardous Substances Properly
When disposing of a hazardous substance, care must be taken to not contaminate working areas or pollute the environment. The disposal of hazardous substances in the workplace is regulated by COSHH, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and the Special Waste Regulation Act 1996. Failure to dispose of hazardous substances in a responsible and legal manner can result in significant fines and/or imprisonment.
Many commonly used chemicals, such as cleaning agents, will have detailed instructions from the manufacturer on how to dispose of them correctly. A business or organisation may also use an authorised waste carrier to collect and dispose of any hazardous substances.
Before collection, any hazardous substances that are to be disposed of must be stored correctly and clearly labelled. A detailed description of all substances must be completed and given to the waste carrier.
The Importance of Spill Kits in the Workplace
Any workplace that uses hazardous substances should have procedures in place to deal with accidents or spills. If a spill occurs, then the hazardous substance must be controlled, rendered harmless and disposed of correctly. A spill kit is a set of equipment specifically put together to clean up hazardous substances.
Spill kits should always be easily accessible, have their contents regularly checked and updated and be situated near any area where a spill may be likely to occur.
Spill kits often contain items such as:
- Instructions on use
- Absorbent materials such as specially designed pads, socks, or pillows.
- Material to prevent the spread of the spill
- Bags for waste disposal
- Neutralising substances
- Appropriate PPE
How to Find Training for Handling Hazardous Substances
You can ensure that your workplace stays safe by participating in the appropriate health and safety training. Human Focus offers hazardous substances online training that covers COSHH health and safety regulations and teaches trainees how to handle hazardous substances safely.