Workplace Safety in 3 Easy Steps

By Ralph Burch


With more than 97 million chemical substances registered with the Chemical Abstract Service, the prospect of staying up to date with the composition and proper handling procedures of each can be a daunting task. Fortunately for employees of facilities that handle volatile chemicals, there are some simple strategies that can be employed to enhance and reinforce safety measures on a daily basis.

Most chemicals can be grouped into classes, which can be helpful in terms of training employees on their accepted uses along with correct handling, clean-up and disposal procedures. So if a facility typically stocks multiple flammable solvents, for example, it is more effective to train employees how to treat chemicals from the same class than to have unique handling procedures for each one individually.

To that end, here are three simple strategies for employees to keep in mind to help ensure the safest possible work environment for themselves and their coworkers:

Stick to the Plan
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the completion of workplace hazard assessments. Once all hazards are identified, plans must be developed and implemented to prevent the hazards from harming employees. For employees who handle hazardous chemicals, following the plan involves everything from wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to checking that equipment is functioning properly to storing chemicals properly when they are not in use. 

Outlining and enforcing safety plans that are clear and easy to follow is the first step in fostering a safe working environment. If a safety plan becomes too complex, facility managers should enlist the help of employees who perform the day-to-day functions to find the best ways to simplify procedures without sacrificing safety.

Read Every Label
For people who work in a lab or other facility and perform the same tasks over and over again, it is easy to fall into a routine and become complacent. Employees should be taught to take the time to read the label on every bottle they pick up so they’re aware of its contents. This will not only ensure they’re using the right product for the function they’re performing at that moment, but also will focus their attention on the task at hand. Getting into the good habit of reading every label will minimize the chance of exposure to a hazardous situation or unintentionally causing a harmful chemical reaction to occur. The adoption of globally harmonized standards (GHS) for chemical labeling has changed the way chemicals are labeled, and by now, employees who work with chemicals on a daily basis should be familiar with the pictograms and hazard statements currently in use. The only way these, or any, labeling system won’t work is if people don’t take the time to read them.

Always Be Alert
For employees who work with hazardous materials day in and day out — and have for a long time — it can be easy to become complacent when it comes to adhering to established safety regulations. Performing tasks while distracted or just going through the motions can lead to dangerous incidents for everyone in the facility.

To remind employees that hazardous materials are present in their work areas, it is vital to provide labels and signs that serve as constant reminders. But the best way to keep chemical information and safety protocols fresh in the minds of employees is through regular safety meetings. During these sessions, supervisors should review safety materials to remind employees how to perform their work functions safely and clarify exactly what to do in the event of an accident.

Teaching employees to handle and use hazardous materials safely does not have to involve cumbersome manuals or a series of one-off handouts every time a new chemical is introduced in the workplace. Training employees to follow established plans of action, diligently read labels, and focus on the task at hand will go a long way toward ensuring a safe and secure work environment.