Hazard or Not a Hazard?
When is a hazard not a hazard? When the hazard can’t reach you!
Did that confuse you? Let’s talk about a phrase sometimes used when discussing hazardous materials or chemicals, the “routes of entry.”
There are basic routes of entry for a chemical to harm you. The most common are these four:
1. Inhalation. You can breathe it in. This could include dusts or fine particulates like silica or asbestos, or a poisonous gas such as carbon monoxide.
2. Contact/Absorption. You touch it or it touches you. Either way, it goes through your skin. Most corrosives are contact hazards. That is the reason that warning signs for corrosives shows a vial being poured onto a hand. And solvents like paint thinners are another example of an absorption hazard.
3. Ingestion. Just like it sounds, ingestion means that the chemical goes through your mouth. It can also go through your mucous membranes. Look at most common product labels, particularly surface cleaners. If it says not to eat or drink the product, it could be an ingestion hazard.
4. Injection. This route of entry is when a material is forced or injected through your skin. An example of injection could be when using a container of a chemical, you get a cut on a rough edge on the container. The skin is broken, giving the chemical a channel through your now open skin.
Can a hazard have more than just one way of causing you harm? Yes, of course it can. Let’s look at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for a common chemical, acetone, linked here. Go to page two and look at the precautionary statements. That’s a long list of precautions!
How do you protect yourself from something like acetone? The first question should be, “Do I have to use acetone?” Would something else work? For many years, acetone was a staple in the nail salon industry as a nail polish-remover. But now, acetone-free products are more popular and prevalent.
If there is no choice but to use acetone then ask another question, “What is the least amount of acetone that I can use and still get the job done?” Or ask if there is some way that acetone could be used without humans being directly involved. Could acetone be used or applied by machines or equipment, eliminating human contact.
Are any of the chemicals or products that you use hazardous? How would those chemicals or products harm you? Where do you look to find out? Here’s a hint – we just checked on the hazards of, and the precautions for, acetone.
Here’s your safety challenge. Have a discussion this week about products that you use. Are they hazardous? Review your SDS with your coworkers. How can these products harm you and what precautions are you or should you and your coworkers be taking?