Do your employees know how to handle hazardous materials safely? Do you have written policies and procedures for handling hazardous materials and are your employees trained on those procedures? Here are 12 basic rules all employees who handle or work around hazardous materials should know and follow:
1. Follow all established procedures and perform job duties as you have been trained.
2. Be cautious and plan ahead. Think about what could go wrong and pay close attention to what you are doing while working with or around hazardous materials.
3. Always use required PPE; inspect it carefully before each use to make sure it’s safe to use. Replace worn PPE; it won’t provide adequate protection.
4. Make sure all containers are properly labeled and that materials are contained in an appropriate container. Don’t use any chemical not contained or labeled properly. Report damaged containers or illegible labels to your supervisor immediately.
5. Read labels and the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) before using any material to make sure you understand hazards and precautions.
6. Use all materials solely for their intended purpose. Don’t, for example, use solvents to wash your hands, or gasoline to clean equipment.
7. Never eat or drink while handling hazardous material. If your hands are contaminated, don’t use cosmetics or handle contact lenses.
8. Employees handling hazardous materials need to read labels on chemicals they use or handle and have Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) available to refer to that explain how to properly deal with handling, storing, and cleaning up spills, and that explain relevant first-aid procedures.
9. Store all hazardous materials properly, separate incompatibles, and store in ventilated, dry, cool areas.
10. Employees must keep themselves and the work area clean. After handling any hazardous material, wash thoroughly with soap and water. Clean work surfaces at least once per shift, so contamination risks are minimized.
11. Learn about emergency procedures and equipment. Understanding emergency procedures means knowing evacuation procedures, emergency reporting procedures, and how to deal with fires or spills/leaks. It also means knowing what to do in a medical emergency if a co-worker is injured or overcome by chemicals.
12. Keep emergency eyewash and shower stations clean. Test them at least monthly to make sure they are working properly and keep them accessible; don’t let clutter build up around the stations.
Your department may have other safety rules and concerns. Present this list in a safety meeting and get your employees involved in adding to the list. This will create a sense of ownership over your safe chemical handling procedures. To the employees it will be “our procedures” rather than “their procedures” which were just given to them. If employees recognize the risks and have involvement in providing input, they will be more likely to comply with your policies and procedures.