Depending on where you work and the substances you handle, you may be at risk of accidental
poisonings, chemical burns, or suffocation. Knowing and following the right safety
steps can help keep you safe. These are some of the hazards you may come across:
Asphyxiants. Gases that displace or dilute breathable air (oxygen) can cause suffocation when
present in very large quantities. (Examples: carbon dioxide and nitrogen.)
Carcinogens. Chemicals that can cause cancer after many years if you breathe them in or soak them
up through your skin. (Examples: asbestos, radon, vinyl chloride, and benzene.)
Compressed gases. Substances often stored in cylinders under high pressure. If the cylinder is dropped
and gas escapes, the cylinder can explode, spin, or take off like a rocket, knocking
down people or walls.
Corrosives. Acids or alkaline substances that can penetrate or burn through the skin. (Examples:
nitric, sulfuric, or hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide.)
Flammables. Liquids, vapors, or gases that can catch fire or explode when exposed to a flame,
an operating electrical tool, or even a simple static spark. (Examples: methane and
Teratogens. Chemicals that can lead to birth defects. (Examples: isotretinoin, excess vitamin
A, alcohol, and thalidomide.)
Toxic chemicals. Substances that can damage the body's organs when they're inhaled, swallowed, or
absorbed through the skin. (Examples: lead, cadmium, and pesticides.)
To find out what you're working with, and how to work safely with it, talk with your
supervisor. Also do the following:
Read the employer's Safety Data Sheet (SDS). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires your employer to
have a sheet for each chemical in use.
Get the facts. OSHA rules require employers to give the correct training to any worker who uses
Get training. Learn about the chemicals you're working with, how to handle them, how to use the
right personal protective equipment, and how to respond to emergencies.
Always read the label. The label will tell you if a substance is flammable, corrosive, or cancer-causing.
It also will state if you need to wear a respirator or gloves or work under a chemical
Wear protective equipment. You may need a respirator, hardhat, steel-toed shoes, gloves, splash goggles, or
Learn to use emergency equipment. That might include eyewash stations or deluge showers. Learn how to turn on emergency
alarms in the event of a fire, spill, or other chemical release.
Report any problems. Know how to file a confidential safety and health report if you believe that something
in your workplace is hazardous and is not being addressed by your employer.