Long before there is an accident involving exposure to harmful chemicals there should be a plan to deal with them. First, create a list of all chemicals in use in the workplace, their properties, and what to do in the case of an accident or exposure. Then make sure to have the necessary equipment and trained personnel to provide first aid treatment.
Accidents involving exposure to chemicals in the workplace are most likely to involve burns or eye injuries, although there have also been incidents where chemicals have been inhaled or ingested. If chemicals are inhaled and the person is unconscious, he should be resuscitated and immediately transported to a hospital.
In a case of chemical ingestion, it is a common misconception that antidotes of water, milk, charcoal, and other combinations can neutralize the ingested chemical. The correct procedure to dilute most chemical ingestions is to provide a small amount of water – about 8-10 oz. Any other procedure including inducing vomiting may cause more harm than good.
Being burned with chemicals is probably the most common accident involving chemicals in the workplace. It usually occurs when proper handling procedures are not followed, or when someone cuts corners. In some cases, even “empty” containers can cause problems and sometimes the person is not even aware that they have been burned until much later.
Normal first aid treatment for chemical burns is to flush the affected body part immediately and thoroughly using a large supply of clean fluid under low pressure for at least 15 minutes. However, this can be reduced or expanded depending on the severity and strength of the chemical. If irritation persists, repeat the flushing procedure. Follow- up medical analysis and treatment is always recommended.
In a case of eye contact with chemicals, the cause is usually improper handling of materials or not wearing protective eye gear like masks, goggles, or glasses. More often than not the contact is a splash or spill that makes contact with the eye.
The appropriate first aid response is to immediately rinse the eye with water at an eyewash station. Eyewash stations are required under health and safety legislation wherever chemicals are used. Rinse the eye(s) for at least a minute, and if still irritated rinse again. If problems persist, report the accident and proceed to the nurse’s station or the emergency room at the nearest hospital.
Caution is crucial when dealing with chemicals in the workplace. So is information. Know what you’re dealing with and how to treat accidents immediately. Your sight or your life just might depend on it.