Corrosives are solid or liquid substances that exact extreme caution when handling. They are usually either an acid, such as nitric acid, sulfuric acid, chromic acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, or acetic acid, or a base, such as ammonium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide. Anyone that has ever seen the effects that corrosives have on metal or other strong materials can easily imagine the damage that a corrosive would do to the delicate human skin. Adding to the danger is the fact that corrosives act upon contact, meaning that damage begins the moment that the corrosive or its vapors come into contact with the eyes, mouth, skin, digestive tract, or respiratory tract.
Injuries from coming into contact with corrosive materials might be extensive and, in some cases, irreversible. Keep in mind that the stronger the concentrate of the corrosive material is, the more damage it has the potential of doing. Some of the most common injuries that result from unprotected contact with corrosives are burns to the eyes and skin. The end result might be blindness or severe scarring of the skin tissues. When the vapors from corrosive materials are inhaled, they might cause burning to the respiratory tract, pulmonary edema (the buildup of fluid around the lungs), or even death. Although less common, if ingested, the corrosive might cause extensive burning or perforation in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.
Aside from the danger of corrosives coming into direct contact with the body, some are combustible or flammable. These substances can very easily explode or catch on fire if not properly stored and handled. One more danger comes from some corrosives being incompatible with other chemicals. When incompatible chemicals are mixed or accidentally come into contact with one another, the result can be a dangerous, sometimes deadly, chemical reaction. Again, the dangers of corrosive materials demand that they be treated with care, respect, and caution.
Any worker that handles any corrosive material should always protect themselves:
- Make sure that corrosives are stored in a safe area. This not only means away from other incompatible substances, but, sometimes even away from other corrosives.
- The storage area should be secured, cool, and dry.
- If it’s necessary to transfer corrosive materials between containers, then make sure that the transfer is done with extreme caution and that the appropriate safety steps have been taken.
- There should be appropriate ventilation anytime a corrosive material is accessed.
- If it’s necessary to mix corrosive materials with water, then be attentive to avoid overfilling and spillage. It’s always best to add water in minute amounts.
- Never reuse any container that previously contained a corrosive material.
- Remember to follow the proper protocol when disposing of unused corrosive materials; these shouldn’t just be poured down a drain.
- Remember to don appropriate personal protective equipment as per protocol. This might include chemical rubber gloves, apron, goggles, face mask, and/or respiratory equipment.
- In the event an accident does occur, immediately seek first aid for the injured. The area should be closed off to prevent subsequent injuries and the appropriate chain of command should be notified.
Remember, it’s too late to be cautious once an accident occurs. It only takes one mistake to produce a costly, painful, disfiguring, and potentially deadly injury.