Chemicals in the workplace must be considered for consequences of spills before they happen. Advance preparation can prevent a small spill from becoming a tragedy. Before handling any chemical, become familiar with a chemical's hazards including hazards of a clean-up. Read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and use appropriate safeguards to prevent a spill in the first place. Have the proper emergency equipment or spill kits before a spill happens for each family of chemicals.
If a spill does occur, the chemical must be known and any hazards it will impose. Have a policy on who to contact for a spill. Use the proper procedures with the clean-up. If an emergency service is needed to be contacted, the information on the chemical spilled will need to be known, such as if the chemical is health threatening.
Information needed to be gathered for a spilled chemical:
Personal exposure - If the spill will cause personal injury to anyone vacate the area.
Containment - If it is feasible to stop the spill from spreading or going into a floor drain.
Prevent access - If others might come to harm by entering the area, prevent access to the area.
Assessment - Determine the type of material spilled and the extent of the spill.
Injuries - Determine type and extent of injuries, if applicable.
Reporting ñ Know who to contact. A phone emergency contact list should be posted by each phone. Be prepared to answer questions on the material spilled, quantity, hazards, extent of the spill, and if any what injuries have occurred.
The responsibility for clean-up of a spill of a material is based on the level of hazard of the spill itself and the degree of personal protective equipment required. Spills that are not health threatening or there are trained people with proper clean-up equipment, the spill should be contained and removed. Spills that require protective clothing and an air-purifying respirator should be handled by highly trained personnel and may include outside services.
In order to determine who is responsible for a clean-up of a spill, each chemical should be classified for a given situation. Read the MSDS on a chemical before working with it. Know what to do if the spilled amount is small or a large quantity. Chemicals might be relatively harmless in small amounts, but extremely hazardous in large amounts.
If the potential of a spill has written policies and trained personnel, the potential for a disaster can be avoided. Knowing and documenting chemicals on hand will ensure the safety of employees. This knowledge will also be important for emergency personnel answering a call such as a fire on the premises.
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