Working in a chemical environment is a great challenge for many people and it is therefore very important for employees working in chemical plants to be aware of the dangers facing them. It is very dangerous to live or work in a chemical environment and this call for people to be educated about living and working in a chemical environment (Sanders, 2005). Information about the types of chemicals found in industrial plants and other places of work and how they affect a person is very essential for all employees. It is common knowledge that chemicals are found in almost every part of our lives ranging from pharmaceuticals, paints, food additives, pesticides and fuels (Sanders, 2005). Many people are not aware of the effects of these chemicals on their health. Chemicals are widely used in industrial settings in the production of various products. Some of these chemicals are very toxic and dangerous to the health of workers (Sanders, 2005). Exposure to chemical hazards is a common occurrence in almost all manufacturing plants. Chemical waste from these industries is sometimes disposed into the environment and in the process exposing outside people to chemical hazards (Sanders, 2005). This paper will highlight the dangers of working in a chemical environment and the measures that industries should take to protect employees that work in a chemical environment.
The human and environmental consequences of chemicals can not be underestimated in any way considering the large number of people exposed to chemicals during their daily life (Glaberman, 1998). Different types of chemicals are used in industrial plants and have varying effects to workers who are not well protected. The nature of a chemical determines the end effect it has on the people who come in contact with it. Some chemicals are very corrosive while others cause dermatitis (Glaberman, 1998). The chemicals can be in form of gas, fume, vapor, dust or liquid. Industrial chemicals enter the human body through ingestion and inhalation (Glaberman, 1998). Industrial chemicals can have adverse effects on the worker the moment they get inside their body or on their skin (Glaberman, 1998). Industrial chemicals lead to certain ailments and allergic reactions depending on the worker’s level of resistance and the length of exposure to the toxic chemicals.
There are certain factors that determine the degree of harm that industrial chemicals can do to workers. To begin with, the composition and structure of a particular chemical determines how dangerous that particular chemical is (Fullwood, 2000). Response to chemicals varies from one person to another and therefore determines the effects of that particular chemical to individual workers. The concentration, length and frequency of exposure also determine the effect that industrial chemicals will have on the worker (Fullwood, 2000). The tissue or organ that comes into contact with a toxic chemical determines the effect of that chemical to the worker. Corrosive chemicals cause burns and inflammations after a chronic exposure. Acids are a good example of corrosive chemicals that can affect the skin, eyes and lungs (Fullwood, 2000). Apart from corrosive chemicals there are other categories that include asphyxiants, poisonous, carcinogenic, dematitic, allergic and fibrogenic chemicals.
Physiological responses to chemicals in industrial plants vary from one worker to another (Steinbach, 2008). There are some workers who are resistant to the effects of industrial chemicals while others can not afford to work in a chemical environment for a longer time (Steinbach, 2008). Some companies do not allow women who are still bearing children to work in a working environment that involves lead. The safety of workers in a chemical environment should be the priority of management (Steinbach, 2008). Industries should conduct regular medical examinations to isolate those employees who are very vulnerable to chemical hazards from those who are resistant (Steinbach, 2008). Many accidents in industrial plants are caused by extended periods of exposure to chemicals. The reaction time of workers can be slowed by solvents and asphyxiants which affect the nervous and breathing system of a person (Steinbach, 2008). Dangerous situations require a quick response but this may not be the case if the worker’s reaction is delayed by toxic chemicals. It is therefore important for workers to clearly understand the type of chemicals they work with for appropriate safety measures to be put in place (Fulekar, 2006). Workers should also be aware of their rights regarding employment in a chemical environment for them to avoid risking their lives and health (Fulekar, 2006).
The damage caused by a toxic chemical depends on its physical form. Solid chemical are known to be more poisonous compared to liquid chemicals (Fulekar, 2006). Occupational dust can cause serious health problems when inhaled. Little or no information is normally provided about the many chemicals being used in manufacturing plants today (Fulekar, 2006). Employers should be well equipped with information on how to dispose chemical waste in a safe manner so that the outside people are not affected. Information about chemical hazards should be made available to workers for them to be more careful when working in a chemical environment (Fulekar, 2006). Many companies that deal with chemicals do not educate their employees about the properties of the chemicals they use and how the chemicals may affect them if they are not handled properly (Fulekar, 2006).
The design of chemical plants should reflect ergonomics considerations related to safety (Holloway, 2012). Ergonomics related illnesses and injuries are very common in many chemical industries. A chemical pant should be designed and arranged according to the capabilities and limitations of workers (Holloway, 2012). The selection of equipment in chemical plants should be based on how safe the equipment is. Industrial engineers should help the management to purchase equipment that promotes safety within the chemical environment of industrial plants. It is important for employers to ensure that only competent workers are given the responsibility of controlling toxic chemicals in an industrial setup (Holloway, 2012). The employees working with toxic chemicals should understand the properties and dangers of the chemicals they come in contact with. Containers with toxic chemicals should bear labels informing employees about the potential hazards of those chemicals and the necessary precautionary measures (Steelman, 1998). Workrooms in industries dealing with chemicals must have warning notices that tell the workers the location of dangerous chemicals (Steelman, 1998).
Chemical plants should always look for ways of substituting toxic chemicals with less toxic ones (Barton, 1997). The liberation of toxic gases and vapors should be minimized as much as possible to protect employees from absorption, inhalation and ingestion of toxic chemicals. Workers who come in direct contact with toxic chemicals should be provided with respirators and safety gloves (Barton, 1997). It is also necessary to separate washing and changing facilities in a working environment with toxic chemicals. The process of manufacturing and handling chemicals should be guided by the articles of industrial law (Barton, 1997). Chemicals have permissible exposure levels that must be strictly followed to prevent their harmful effects. Workers in a chemical environment should only be exposed to toxic chemicals for a maximum of eight hours per day. The short-term exposure level is normally fifteen minutes in a day. Chemicals that are very reactive should be stored in tightly closed containers (Barton, 1997).
The transfer and manipulation of reactive chemicals should take place in an atmosphere that is inert. The potential hazards of a particular chemical and their proper use should be investigated before any kind of chemical is acquired. Safety information for a particular chemical should be provided by suppliers at the time of procurement (Barton, 1997). The economic and operational effects of hazardous chemicals should be critically analyzed before deciding to use them. Chemical plants should use closed processes rather than open processes when dealing with toxic chemicals. Automatic operations should be adopted in chemical plants because manual operations increase the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. It is the responsibility of an industrial engineer to identify all potential hazards in all the industrial processes that involve chemicals (Barton, 1997). The composition and chemical properties determine whether a particular chemical is dangerous or not. The handling procedures of chemicals should be strictly followed when dealing with toxic chemicals. Employers should invest a lot of money in safety initiatives to protect its employees from the harmful effects of chemicals. Ergonomics related measures as suitable in ensuring that workers feel comfortable while working in a chemical environment (Barton, 1997). As mentioned earlier, working in a chemical environment is a great challenge that all the industry stakeholders need to tackle. The safety of workers comes first as far as working in a chemical environment is concerned (Barton, 1997). Ergonomics should always be considered when designing a chemical plant.
Barton, J. (1997). Chemical reaction hazards: A guide to safety. New York, NY: IChemE.
Fulekar, R. (2006). Industrial hygiene and chemical safety. London: I.K International Pvt Ltd.
Fullwood, R. (2000). Probabilistic safety assessment in the chemical and nuclear industries. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Glaberman, M. (1998). Working for wages: The roots of insurgency. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Holloway, M. (2012). Process plant equipment: Operation control and reliability. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Sanders, R. (2005). Chemical process safety: Learning from case histories. New York, NY: Gulf Professional Publishing.
Steelman, J. (1998). Encyclopedia of occupational health and safety. London: International Labor Organization.
Steinbach, J. (2008). Safety assessment for chemical processes. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.