The dangers of working with harsh chemicals and how to protect employees


Every year, thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substances at work. This is why it’s extremely important for employers to protect their staff members, and for employees to take all the relevant precautions to safeguard their health. While many products are notoriously harmful such as ammonia solutions, chlorine and sulphur dioxide, others that might appear less risky such as paints for roof, glue, lubricants, detergent and cosmetics can be dangerous too. So, with this in mind here’s how to keep everyone safe at work.

Find out the dangers of your business
Ill health caused by dangerous substances at work can be prevented, but first you need to identify the dangers of your business. While dusty or fume-laden air might be a concern for one company, metalwork fluids that can grow bacteria and lead to dermatitis and asthma might be a worry for another.

Similarly, as prolonged contact with wet cement in construction can lead to chemical burns and benzene in crude oil can cause leukaemia, it’s important to have special health and safety measures in place to prevent people from exposing themselves to such products in a harmful way.

Analyse each substance
Once you’ve identified the dangerous products, you must then analyse them in more detail to ensure you know exactly how they can be harmful to health. You can find out the dangers by checking information that came with the product such as the safety data sheet; asking the supplier, sales representative or your trade association; looking in the trade press for health and safety information and checking on the internet, such as HSE’s website for your trade.

Reduce exposure
In order to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, employers must take measures to reduce an employee’s risk of exposure to dangerous substances, be it storing products correctly, switching hazardous products for less harmful ones where possible, working in a supervised and controlled way and providing the correct personal protective equipment for each task. Control equipment should also be used such as ventilation to extract dust; glove boxes and fume cupboards; spray booths and refuges (clean rooms in dirty areas) and using water to reduce dust.

Maintaining control
Once you have control over substances, it’s also necessary to maintain it and not let standards slip. As the employer you must make sure control measures (equipment and the way of working) are appropriate and keep working properly. You should also name someone in charge of checking and maintaining control measures.

Safety at work is of paramount importance, so be sure to look after staff and visitors in any way you can.