Chemical hazards in the workplace

Introduction

While there is limited data on the extent of hazard exposure within organizations in the USA and UK, the increasing usage of chemicals in various industries suggests that majority of workers within the organizations are highly exposed to the hazardous chemicals. If not well managed, the hazardous chemicals that are manifested in form of dust, fumes, vapor or mists can cause significant negative effects on human health.

According to Calvert, Luckhaupt, Sussell, Dahlhamer & Ward (2013) prompt detection of exposure to hazardous chemicals within an occupational setting will not only reduce the presence of the toxins in the various environment, but will equally improve the safety of the workers within the workplace. Nevertheless, detection of exposure to the possible hazardous chemicals alone does not contribute effectively towards the development of any reasonable strategies to enhance human safety. Rather, as Bachman (2013) posits, it is vital that the risks presented by every exposure is assessed to select on those that have adverse effects of concern to human health. In reference to this, the current paper presents a discussion of the critical stages involved in the assessment of risk from exposure to chemical hazards in the context of an organizational setting. The paper also identifies the barriers that are likely to hinder the assessment of the possible risks from exposure to the chemical hazards.

The Key Stages in Assessing the Risk from Exposure to Chemical Hazards

Hazard identification

The initial step in the assessment of the possible risks from hazardous chemical exposure is the identification of the probable hazards within the organization. The process mainly involves the examination of working environment, equipment and material utilized within the workplace to identify those that are likely to cause hazardous effects to humans (Jeong & Baik, 2014). While the equipment and materials are considered the most probable sources of hazards in an organizational setting, Bachman (2013) has pointed out the significance of equally examining the physical work environment of the organization since it also has a higher chance of being a hazard source. Apart inspection of the probable hazard sources, survey method is utilized to find out the various things that are considered hazardous by the employees. Creative thinking is also employed in the identification of the hazardous events that are likely to occur within the organization. The goal of the hazard identification stage is to ensure that any object or material that is likely to cause harm to humans is documented in the risk assessment sheet for further evaluation on the extent of risk that each have when exposed to humans.

Exposure Assessment

Exposure assessment focuses on determining the likelihood of the risks occurring within the workplace. This entails the examination of how various activities are done within the organization, how often the activities are executed and the number of individuals involved in the process. According to Calvert, Luckhaupt, Sussell, Dahlhamer and Ward (2013)  a potentially higher exposure is likely to be observed in cases where the chemicals is frequently used by a larger number of workers within the workplace. Moreover, workers within the organization are likely to be more exposed to chemicals that are sprayed as opposed to those that are poured. Assessing the extent of exposure is essential in evaluating the extent of damage that can be caused by various hazards identified within the organization.

 

Risk Assessment

The risk assessment stage that focuses on identification of the possible effects that each of the identified hazards has on an individual. The main aim of the risk assessment stage is to evaluate the severity of the risk and to determine the likelihood of damages occurring when one is exposed to the hazard. The assessment is done by reviewing the health and safety information available from an authoritative source that is applicable to each hazard. In the case of hazardous chemicals, the information provided by the manufacturer on the product labels are used to assess the extent of risks involved in the usage of the said chemical. In the USA, UK and some parts of the world safety data sheet (SDS) that accompanies every hazardous chemical product is used to assess risks exposed to the chemical handlers when the product comes in contact with skin, is inhaled or swallowed. Moreover, the safety sheet also contains information on the kind of damages that might occur when one is exposed to the product. The manufacturers’ information is important in enabling the assessors understand the nature of damage that can arise one is exposed to the hazardous chemicals.

Risk Characterization

The risks posed by various hazardous chemicals differ in terms of strength and exposure. The extent of damage that can be caused by one chemical differs from the others, thus the importance of characterization of every risk posed by the hazardous chemicals. The identified risks of every chemical hazard are categorized and rated based on their likelihood of occurrence, severity and consequences. The risks with higher ratings have severe consequences and are likely to cause more harm to an individual. Ranking is vital in ensuring that proper control strategies that would amicably address every risk are put in place.

Controlling risks

After identification and assessment of the risks of the various hazardous chemicals within the organization control measures are put in place to protect the workers from the risks identified. The process entails the evaluation of the control measures that are already in place to determine their effectiveness in offering maximum protection to the hazardous chemical handlers. Only those control measures that are effective are retained. The risk assessors also considers the adoption of various approaches such as elimination of the hazardous chemicals, substitution of the hazards with less hazardous products, and the use of personal protective equipment to enhance the control of the various hazards identified within the organization. The approach to adopt in the control of the risks presented by each of the hazard identified should be dependent on its ease of application and the consequences it will have on the overall performance of the organization. For instance, the hazardous chemicals can only be eliminated within the workplace, when there are suitable substitutes for the same. Nevertheless, care should be taken to ensure that the introduced chemicals do not pose more risks than the eliminated ones. The control mechanisms should ensure that maximum protection and safety is offered to the workers in their line of duty.