If you run a small business or are self-employed, you need this information to make sure you are protecting your employees. If you run a medium-sized or large business, where decisions about controlling hazardous substances are more complex, you may also need professional advice..
Every year, thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substances, contracting lung disease such as asthma, cancer and skin disease such as dermatitis. These diseases cost many millions of pounds each year to industry, to
§ replace the trained worker;
§ society, in disability allowances and medicines; and
§ individuals, who may lose their jobs.You, as the employer, are responsible for taking effective measures to control exposure and protect health. These measures can also improve production or cut waste.
Your aim in running your business is to make a profit. You know what you do, and how you are doing it. You know what ‘processes’ and ‘tasks’ are involved. You know the short cuts. Ensuring your workers remain healthy may also lead to healthy profits.
Which substances are harmful?
§ Dusty or fume-laden air can cause lung diseases, e.g. in welders, quarry workers or woodworkers.
§ Metalworking fluids can grow bacteria and fungi which cause dermatitis and asthma.
§ Flowers, bulbs, fruit and vegetables can cause dermatitis.
§ Wet working, e.g. catering and cleaning, can cause dermatitis.
§ Benzene in crude oil can cause leukemia.
Many other products or substances used at work can be harmful, such as paint, ink, glue, lubricant, detergent and beauty products. Ill health caused by these substances used at work is preventable. Many substances can harm health but, used properly, they almost never do.
Find out the dangers in your business – ask your supplier, your trade association.
Substances can also have dangerous properties. They may be flammable, for example solvent-based products may give off flammable vapour. Clouds of dust from everyday materials, such as wood dust or flour, can explode if ignited.
Look at each substance
Which substances are involved? In what way are they harmful? You can find out by:
§ checking information that came with the product, e.g. a safety data sheet;
§ asking the supplier, sales representative and your trade association;
§ looking in the trade press for health and safety information;
Think about the task
If the substance is harmful, how might workers be exposed?
§ Breathing in gases, fumes, mist or dust?
§ Contact with the skin?
§ Contact with the eyes?
§ Skin puncture?
Bear these in mind when you look at the tasks.
Exposure by breathing inOnce breathed in, some substances can attack the nose, throat or lungs while others get into the body through the lungs and harm other parts of the body, e.g. the liver.
Exposure by skin contactSome substances damage skin, while others pass through it and damage other parts of the body. Skin gets contaminated:
· by direct contact with the substance, e.g. if you touch it or dip your hands in it;
· by splashing;
· by substances landing on the skin, e.g. airborne dust;
· by contact with contaminated surfaces – this includes contact with contamination inside protective gloves.
Exposure by swallowingPeople transfer chemicals from their hands to their mouths by eating, smoking etc. without washing first.
Exposure to the eyesSome vapours, gases and dusts are irritating to eyes. Caustic fluid splashes can damage eyesight permanently.
Exposure by skin punctureRisks from skin puncture such as butchery or needlestick injuries are rare, but can involve infections or very harmful substances, e.g. drugs.