Chemical Hazards

How can chemicals hurt me?

Chemicals have two general types of hazards: Physical hazards and health hazards.  Examples of physical hazards include chemicals which may be flammable or combustible, explosive, shock-sensitive, oxidizers, or react violently with water or with air.  Examples of health hazards include toxins, carcinogens, teratogens, irritants, and sensitizers.

In general, you cannot be exposed to a health hazard unless the chemical enters the body. There are four major routes of entry:

  • Absorption – the chemical contacts the skin or eyes and causes immediate damage or is absorbed into the bloodstream
  • Inhalation – the chemical is breathed and enters the bloodstream through the lungs
  • Ingestion – the chemical is swallowed and enters the bloodstream through the gastro-intestinal track
  • Injection – the chemical enters a break in the skin from a new or previous injury

How do I prevent chemicals from hurting me?

In general, employees working with chemicals are protected on three levels:

  • Administrative controls are polices, procedures, guidelines, rules, or trainings that reduce the duration, frequency, or severity of exposure to the chemical
  • Engineering controls are equipment or substitute products which reduce or eliminate the duration, frequency, or severity of exposure to the chemical
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the clothing, safety glasses, gloves, and other equipment worn by a worker to protect the worker from the hazards of a chemical. PPE does not reduce or eliminate the hazard.