Working with hazardous chemicals and materials is a necessary danger that professionals in the medical, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing fields — among others — face every day. While the risks associated with handling these materials are real, it is also possible to address, manage and mitigate these risks by following the proper procedures and knowing what to do.
The tips below will help you and your staff safely handle these hazardous materials to better ensure safe products and outcomes, as well as a healthy workplace.
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- Institute a safety culture: Hazardous material safety should become a running theme in all aspects of facility operations, for all personnel. The company or facility should have a general SOP that covers baseline safe handling practices for hazardous chemicals, which should include the location of safety documentation; the location of the chemical hygiene plan; general hazards that chemicals and processes present; general handling and labeling practices; cleaning and disposal practices; and more. This general SOP will help personnel understand the dangers of hazardous materials, and what is expected of everyone to attenuate risk. The general SOP will act in addition to more specific chemical procedures.
- Educate and reinforce: As part of a safety culture, all personnel should receive general safety training (or be required to complete educational programs and materials), with additional, more focused training as necessary for specific roles and tasks. Training should be conducted for new hires, as well as on at least an annual basis for all employees. Further, it should be regularly reviewed and updated to assure adherence to the latest procedures and best practices.
- Cover the big picture — as well as the details: In addition to the general facility SOP covering basic safety practices and material handling techniques, personnel in direct contact with chemicals should be familiar with the specific documentation, procedures and dangers associated with each of those materials. This means that documentation should be available and ready for review so that workers understand exactly what is required of them to maintain a safe workplace.
- Audit, maintain and update infrastructure: Facility design and equipment play a critical role in effective safe handling, with factors such as air flow and filter maintenance being of paramount importance. Air flow equipment should be regularly checked, tested and maintained to remain compliant with the requirements of the chemicals present in the facility; filters should be checked and replaced regularly; and equipment such as fume hoods should be tested before each use. Safety equipment should never be an area of compromise for cost or other reasons, so be sure to review your facility’s equipment buildout to verify that you are delivering what employees need to stay safe.
- Address issues sooner rather than later: Issues including spills, damaged equipment and other accidents — no matter how seemingly “minor” — should be proactively addressed as soon as possible, ideally as soon as they occur. There is no such thing as a minor incident in a chemical lab, with even the smallest spill or piece of damage capable of creating much larger problems. Once a spill, crack, drop or other incident happens, the facility becomes exponentially more unpredictable, with no guarantee that surfaces are not slippery or sticky, that equipment is not about to shatter, or that fumes are not present — to name just a few such dangers.
- Provide and check PPE: Personal protective equipment must be a non-negotiable requirement for all personnel who handle hazardous chemicals, no matter how briefly. The facility should provide all required PPE and should account for cleaning, storage and turnover, while personnel should be educated on proper PPE tactics and usage.
- Focus on the storeroom as well as the lab: In addition to active work with chemicals in the lab, the storeroom should be an area of safety focus. This means proper storage, documentation and handoffs, as well as maintaining sufficient levels of cleaning equipment and other safety needs so that safety procedures are never skipped or compromised.
These tips shed light on the risks and dangers associated with hazardous chemical handling, as well as some of the most effective ways to avoid them. While safety should be an ongoing concern with ever-increasing focus and detail, these tips represent some of the easiest practices and procedures to implement so that your personnel maintain a true safety-first mindset — for their benefit as well as that of their colleagues
Author bio: Steve Gonzales is CEO of Technical Safety Services, which provides testing, certification, and calibration of equipment and controlled environment crucial to the success of the biopharma, medical device, academic research, and food production industries.