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Chemicals - Safe use and handling

What are the problems?

Bulk delivery

Tanks may be overfilled or filled with the wrong product.  To reduce the risk of this happening:

Storage

Some chemicals may react in a hazardous way when they are mixed together, eg they may react violently, generate a lot of heat or develop toxic gases:

Fire may arise from ignition of stored flammable substances.  The precautions that you need to take will depend on the degree of flammability of the substances in question:

An existing fire may be made considerably worse if an oxidising agent is involved.  When heated in a fire, many of these substances can break down and the liberation of oxygen can cause an increase in the rate of burning:

Some substances, such as sodium hydrosulphite (Hydros), may react violently if contaminated with a small amount of water.  To reduce the risk of this happening:

Serious consequences may arise from accidental spillages

Dispensing

It is often convenient to put dispensing points around the factory to reduce travel distances to machines.  However, these need to be planned and well laid-out, with plenty of space to work in.

Splashes of chemicals or very hot water may cause burns.  Therefore:

Chemical cross-contamination of incompatible substances may result in a violent reaction.  Therefore, always use clean and dry scoops and buckets

People may suffer ill health if exposed to airborne chemicals with irritant or other toxic properties:

Dermatitis may result from prolonged exposure of the skin to chemicals and water:

Transport by bucket

Splashes from buckets may result in burns.  Therefore:

Piped delivery systems

Many of these risks with dispensing and transport can be avoided if a piped delivery system is used to convey chemicals directly from bulk storage to process points. However, these systems can present risks of their own.

Pipes and joints may leak.  To reduce the risk of this happening:

Spotting solvents

Spotting solvents are used in textile and clothing manufacture to remove stains from fabrics.  These can be caused by such things as loom and machine oils, felt pens, coffee, grease and finger marks.

Spotting solvents are usually applied to the fabric by spray gun, but a cloth soaked in solvent may also be used. Typically, the fabric is left to dry by natural evaporation, but a compressed air jet can sometimes be used to help drying.

Two main groups of spotting solvents are used – halogentated hydrocarbons and olefins.

Exposure and health effects

People can be exposed to spotting solvents by inhaling mist and vapour and by solvent being absorbed through the skin.  Solvents can also enter the body through handling food and drink and by smoking.

The main effects are irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs, headache, nausea, dizziness and light-headedness. Repeated or prolonged skin contact can cause dermatitis. Solvents can also impair co-ordination and this can lead to accidents. Other effects on health vary according to the solvent being used.

Working without solvents?

Look at how stains happen - could a change in production methods help to prevent or minimise staining?  Experience has shown that a quality improvement programme can reduce considerably the need for spot cleaning.

Could solvent-free agents such as household type water-based cleaning products be used, even if just for some stains?  Note that some water-based agents also have health risks - these need to be assessed and balanced against the risks from spotting solvents.

Further information

Storing chemicals

Information about storing chemicals safely can be found at the links given below.

Working safely with chemicals

Many chemicals are classed as substances hazardous to health.

Information and guidance on working safely with chemicals and other substances hazardous to health can be found on the following web pages:

Updated 2015-08-13