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Safety in Use of Chemicals

Pranjal J. Goswami, Manjree

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In India, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy had triggered awareness on chemical risk and safety associated with industries. Many chemical safety guidelines have been adopted since this accident, but still in a large number of industries this issue remains at the lowest rung of priority. Almost all the chemicals used in industries have the potential of causing a variety of adverse reactions. Some of the chemicals are highly inflammable and/or explosive, many are poisonous and most can cause adverse health effect like dermatitis, allergic reactions, asthma, neurological disorders, reproductive disorders and even cancer upon exposure beyond a certain limit. Both acute and chronic symptoms of chemical exposure generally prevail among workers but due to lack of knowledge and inadequate intervention these symptoms go unrecognized. It is very necessary to handle the chemicals in a safe way so that adverse consequences can be avoided. The objective is to protect workers from hazards of chemicals, to prevent or reduce the incidences of chemically induced illnesses and injuries resulting from use of chemicals at workplace and to enhance the protection of environment. The chemicals can be handled safely by adopting very simple and practicable work practices.

Safe Work Practices:

  • Label all chemical containers legibly. Never put more than one chemical in the same container. Use regional language on the label.
  • Make Arrangement to avoid storing incompatible chemicals together. Never store together acids and alkalis, metals with water, flammable chemicals near sources of ignition etc.
  • Do not leave any container open while not in use. (Particularly volatile organic compounds). Such act may result in accumulation of flammable vapors or fumes at the workspace.
  • Always use trolley to transfer chemicals to prevent accidental spillage.
  • If pipelines are used to transfer chemicals then never transfer more that one chemical in the same pipeline without rinsing with water. Mixing of incompatible chemicals may induce unwanted vigorous reaction that may lead to explosion or release of poisonous chemicals.
  • Install grounding and bonding procedure to transfer organic solvent via pipelines to avoid accumulation of static electric charges (which can cause fire hazard).
  • Make the storage area as limited access area and store highly toxic chemicals under lock and key. Maintain a record of use of highly toxic chemicals.
  • Maintain an inventory of all the chemicals used and stored. Never purchase chemicals more than required to avoid unnecessary disposal and minimize storage space.
  • Store filled and empty containers separately
  • Obtain Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each chemical and follow the instruction of MSDS. Make use of the information on physical and chemical properties, fire prevention, toxicological data; spill containment procedures and disposal methods.
  • Organize training to educate the workers on utilization of MSDS information and chemical safety. Keep a record of the training programme and arrange refresher training at regular intervals.
  • Enclose any process that generates dust, vapors, fumes or smoke to prevent exposure to workers.
  • Install exhaust ventilation system at the workplace to reduce the concentration of contaminant if emitted in the work environment.
  • Develop Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for each process and encourage all workers to follow the SOPs.
  • Do not pour flammable solvents into reaction vessel without inerting or purging the vessel with an inert gas like nitrogen. Avoid splashing solvent into vessel vessel from top to prevent generation of static charges.
  • Use gloves while handling chemicals to avoid direct contact with skin. Select gloves in such a way that it should not react with the chemical handling. Different kinds of gloves are used to handle different chemicals.
  • Institute proper respiratory protection program in accordance with the chemicals used in the workplace. Selection, usage and maintenance of Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) are the vital components of the program. Keep an inventory of RPE.
  • If any chemical falls on any part of body then wash with large amount of water. Install safety showers and emergency eyewash where corrosive chemicals are being used.
  • Do not try to smell or touch or taste any chemical.
  • Install proper kind of fire fighting arrangements to deal with fire accidents. Install fire extinguishers at easily accessible locations. Different kinds of fire extinguishers at easily accessible locations. Different kinds of fire extinguishers are used to extinguish fire of different chemicals. Provide training on safe operation of fire extinguishers to the workers and arrange mock drills at regular intervals.
  • Initiate emergency response plan and make periodic review of the plan.
  • Provide first aid training to workers. Install first aid boxes at the workplace with appropriate content. Maintain a record of use of first aid measures.
  • Do not overlook small leakage. Attend any spillage or leakage immediately. Initiate a spill containment procedure for each chemical in accordance with MSDS information.
  • Use flameproof electrical gears or spark arrestor type electrical gear where flammable chemicals are used. Always used insulated wires and avoid the use of loose or flexible wires.
  • Do not eat or smoke at the workplace. Use separate area free from any chemical or equipment for taking food.
  • Wash hands before taking food and take a bath after work at workplace.
  • Wear separate clothes at workplace and change them before leaving for home.
  • Inform superior if you notice anything abnormal at the workplace.

Complete elimination of hazards associated with chemicals at workplace is not possible. Hazards can only be controlled or reduced by application of scientific technologies. Identification of chemical hazards and proper evaluation of the risks in advance can contribute to the prevention of occupationally induced illnesses by adopting appropriate control measures. Most of the chemically induced occupational diseases are irreversible and incur huge cost of treatment. The fundamental criterion is to avoid any kind of chemical exposure to workers and to the community.


  1. International Labour Convention on Chemical Safely; Convention No.170, 1990, International Labour Office, Geneva.
  2. Recommendation on Chemical Safety No.177, International Labour Office, Geneva, 1990.
  3. Industrial Toxicology, Safety and Health Applications in the Workplace, Edited by Phillip L. Williams and James L. Burson, Lifetime Learning Publications, New York, 1985.
  4. The Factories Act, 1948.
  5. The Model Factories Rule, Delhi.

Pranjal J. Goswami1, Manjree2

1 Industrial Hygienist (COEH),

2 Research Assistant (COEH)

Published in: Bulletin of Occupational And Environmental Health
Vol. No.4 Jan-June 2003