Important Safety Steps to Take When Working with Chemicals on the Job


Working with chemicals can be risky, but if certain safety precautions are put into place, this risk can be minimized. These precautions are known as operation control and include 4 principles: eliminating the hazard, shielding, ventilation and protecting the worker.


It is ideal if you can eliminate the chemical that is dangerous or replace it with one that is less threatening. This can help to reduce chemical hazards and the risk of a fire or explosion occurring. Some examples of substitutions include the following:

  • Replace organic solvent based glues or paint with those that are water-based.
  • Instead of using solvents, use solutions that are made with water detergents.
  • Use chemicals with high flashpoints.
  • Instead of spray painting, use electrostatic or dip painting.
  • Use wet blasting techniques as opposed to dry abrasive blasting.

Of course, there are instances where replacing the potentially hazardous substance is just not possible. In these cases, the utmost care should be taken to ensure the safety of those who handle these types of chemicals.


The risks associated with using hazardous chemicals can be greatly reduced by enclosing the processing equipment. This restricts air contaminants from spreading and isolates the substance. Some examples of this method include the following:

  • Screening the entire machine.
  • Shielding operation processes that employ abrasive blasting techniques.
  • Enclosing transfer points of a conveyer that produce dust.

It is also helpful to isolate these processes from other areas of the workplace. This can be done by moving them to a remote area in the plant or by enclosing them with a barrier that acts to separate them from other workstations.


Adequate ventilation is crucial when working with airborne chemicals. When employed correctly, ventilation acts to trap airborne contaminants and stop them from coming into contact with the worker. These trapped contaminants are sent to a collector by a system of ducts and a special exhaust system.

There are two common methods of local ventilation that can be used.

1. Exhaust Ventilation System – This method uses hoods that are located in close proximity to the source of the contaminant. The system’s fan draws the contaminant up and away from the worker through an exhaust system. It is particularly effective in controlling toxic substances like organic solvents, lead and asbestos.

2. General Ventilation – This method is also called dilution ventilation and operates by diluting the contaminants in the air by pushing air into and out of the workplace. Since this system only disperses the contaminants in the air instead of removing them, it is recommended for use with substances that are used in small quantities and have a low toxicity.


Personnel who work with chemicals face certain risks, but these can be minimized with personal protective equipment. By wearing this equipment, the worker reduces the chance that he or she will come into contact with the toxic chemical. Some of the pieces of personal safety gear include respirators, safety glasses, goggles and shields, and items to protect the skin like gloves, boots and coveralls.

Respirators – These pieces of safety equipment prevent chemicals from being breathed into the body by covering the mouth and nose. There are two types of respirators: air purifying and air supply.

Safety Glasses, Goggles and Shields – These items prevent chemical splashes from reaching the eyes and skin of the face. They also shield them from dust, vapors and fumes.

Skin Protection – In order to provide protection for the skin, clothing items such as gloves, boots and coveralls should be worn. These items should be impervious to the hazardous chemicals the worker is exposed to.

When these 4 principles of operation control are employed when working with chemicals, the risks associated with their use can be greatly diminished.

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