Worker in a protective suit handling a barrel.

Hazardous substances - A to Z

Operational safety is the bedrock of every process structure. Hazardous substances can undermine operational safety and lower product quality. In the worst of cases, they could even put employees’ health at risk. In this article, you will learn the basics of hazardous substances and thus move one step closer to a full operational safety.

What are hazardous substances?

Hazardous substances are chemical substances and mixtures that may be explosive, oxidizing or flammable in their gaseous, liquid or solid state; some may also pose health or environmental risks. Solvents are widely known to form vapors that can produce an explosive atmosphere and are harmful when inhaled. However, metal or wood dust should be considered hazardous, too. That often makes it difficult to identify and assess the associated risks and define appropriate precautions.

Work involving hazardous substances

Many companies lack deep expertise on classification, labeling and risk assessment for activities involving hazardous substances. In short, they urgently need to do something about this!

You should always have the following goals:

  • Comply with industrial safety laws
  • Identify and eliminate health hazards
  • Maintain productivity

You can only achieve these goals if work processes and activities involving hazardous substances are designed to be as safe as possible. That requires a sound understanding of the processes so you can choose appropriate precautions. First and foremost, determine which products contain hazardous substances in the first place. In many cases, they can be replaced by products that contain fewer or no hazardous substances without loss of quality.

If there is no safer substitute, employees must be verbally trained each year on safe work practices for activities involving hazardous substances.

Measuring and assessing hazardous substance risk

Hazardous substance measurements must be done by experts, preferably an accredited measuring body who consults current lists of hazardous substances and chemical agents. Duly authorized personnel at the measuring body identify the hazardous substances and evaluate their airborne concentrations. See our blog post on risk assessment for details.

Expert advice enables you to implement solutions to prevent long-term harm from hazardous substances.

Avoiding hazardous substances: results-driven approach to operational safety

Avoiding hazardous substances: results-driven approach to operational safety

A workplace risk has to be identified before it can be eliminated. To avoid hazardous substances, experts take three steps:

  • 1. Assess risk from regard to fire/explosive, inhalation and dermal hazards
  • 2. Measure hazardous substances
  • 3. Recommend measures to eliminate hazardous substances or their effects

Measures to minimize or avoid hazardous substances can make all the difference. Professional implementation ensures low sickness rates, full compliance with statutory health and safety requirements, improved overall productivity and a good public image as an employer.

If you cannot avoid hazardous substances at your facility, you should always label them properly. Containers, pipes and even waste must be correctly marked. Consider the characteristics of hazardous substances when storing or otherwise handling them. See our blog post for more details.

Our hazardous substance experts can help

A deep understanding of industry processes is needed to identify and measure risks to processes and people. Only then can appropriate measures be recommended. Cross-industry expertise is necessary, too. An independent assessment of health hazards caused by chemical substances or dust at the workplace is the only way to address all the consequences and meet the legal requirements.

Your top priority is always to protect human health and the environment. Outsourcing hazardous substance assessments to an external, independent team of hazardous substance experts will greatly enhance your public reputation for probity and trustworthiness. Plus, you can then focus on your core business.

Hazardous substances can be minimized but almost never avoided altogether. That makes it particularly important to handle hazardous substances safely. With our free checklist, “10 questions you should ask about how hazardous substances are handled at your company”, you will always know how to ensure long-term operational safety.

Key topics on hazardous substances

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