A plan of action and the tools to deal with exposure, accident, and handling of harmful chemicals should be in place long before any chemical enters the workplace. This plan should include a comprehensive listing of all chemicals used in a workplace, all of the properties of applicable chemicals, and what to do in the event of exposure or accident. The necessary equipment and employees trained to provide first aid treatment should accompany this plan. Eye injury and burns are common results of workplace accidents which involve exposure to chemicals. Although less common, exposure to chemicals in the workplace can involve the chemical being accidentally ingested or inhaled. Every employee should know protocol, vital chemical information, and how to handle chemical accidents.
An employee suffering a burn is usually the most common chemical-related workplace accident. This type of accident likely occurs when the employee doesn’t follow proper handling procedures or skips necessary steps when handling the chemical. Sometimes the employee might not even be aware of the danger, as “thought to be empty” containers could cause a burn to appear much later. Standard first aid protocol for chemical burns involves immediately and thoroughly flushing the affected body part under a low pressure clean fluid source for at least 15 minutes. Depending on the strength of the chemical and severity of the injury, the time flushed might need to be extended. If the area remains irritated, the flushing process should be repeated. The incident should be reported and the employee should seek further or follow-up medical treatment.
Eye contact with workplace chemicals is usually the result of the employee not properly handling the chemical or failing to wear applicable personal protective eye equipment such as – glasses, face shields, or goggles. The failure of proper handling and/or failure to wear personal protective equipment is usually combined with a spill or splash that causes the chemical to come into contact with the employees’ eye. Standard first aid protocol for chemical eye contact involves immediately rinsing the eye with clean water.
For the above purpose, health and safety legislation requires that any entity using chemicals have an eye wash station. The affected eye(s) should be rinsed for a minimum of one minute. If the irritation remains, the eye wash procedure should be repeated. In the event that irritation or vision problems remain, emergency treatment should be sought. As always, the incident should be reported.
If an employee looses consciousness after inhaling (breathing in) a chemical, standard first aid protocol is to resuscitate and immediately seek emergency services for hospital transportation.
It is actually easy to ingest a chemical when proper hand washing doesn’t occur. The employee might ingest the chemical after handling tobacco or food with contaminated hands. There are two common misconceptions about chemical ingestion – an oral antidote of water, milk, or charcoal can neutralize the chemical and inducing vomiting can remove the chemical. Inducing vomiting, in particular, can actually cause further harm if the chemical (re)burns the esophagus on the way up. The standard procedure, for most incidences of chemical ingestion, is to dilute the chemical by drinking 8 to 10 ounces of water.