Small Business Brief

Safety & Loss Prevention

How to Take Care of Your Employees and Handle Hazardous Materials Properly

Do your company’s employees spend a lot of time working with hazardous materials? If so, you need to make sure that they stay safe at all times.

There are a lot of different hazardous chemicals that your employees might come into contact with regularly. Some of the most common examples include things like trichloroethane, difluoroethane, methylnaphthalene, hexanone, and acrylonitrile.

Handling hazardous materials in the workplace like the ones we just mentioned could prove to be problematic if you don’t take the right steps to protect your employees. It’s important for you to take this seriously and to ensure that your employees are well aware of the dangers associated with their jobs.

Here are some useful tips on how to handle hazardous materials in the workplace. They can help prevent accidents from happening and put your employees in a position to do their jobs more effectively overall.

Create a Running List of Hazardous Materials Stored in Your Facility

Are you going to store a single hazardous chemical in your facility? Or are you going to have multiple types of hazardous materials in storage in your facility?

Either way, you need to keep a running list of every hazardous material that you have in your facility at all times. Making this list is the very first thing you should do when you start welcoming hazardous materials into your workplace.

It’s going to be difficult for you to organize hazardous materials training seminars if you don’t have a list of the materials in your facility. You should write down the names of the materials as well as all pertinent information related to them.

For years, many companies have kept hard copies of these types of lists on hand in the form of safety data sheets, or SDS. But these days, many companies are choosing to use MSDS hazmat software to get the job done.

Regardless of how you decide to do it, you should always keep track of all the various hazardous chemicals in your facility. It’ll make life easier for you and your employees.

Think About Potential Risks Associated With Each Material

Hazardous materials are called hazardous materials for a reason. Each of them comes with their own set of risks that you and your employees need to be aware of when working with them.

Some materials can be hazardous for your health if you breathe in the fumes that they create. Other materials can be hazardous if they come into contact with your skin.

In addition to creating a list of the hazardous materials in your facility, you should also consider all the potential risks associated with each chemical in your possession. Post these risks throughout your facility so that your employees know about them.

Store Materials in the Right Places and Label Them

Part of the reason why you want to familiarize yourself with the risks associated with hazardous materials is so that you can let your employees know about them. But part of it is also so that you can make sure you store these materials in the right places.

The CDC has created a whole checklist of things that companies need to keep in mind when storing hazardous materials in their facilities. There are dozens of questions that you’re going to want to ask yourself prior to finding a place for hazardous chemicals in your facility.

You’re going to want to think about things like:

  • What kind of container you’re going to use to hold your hazardous materials
  • What temperature you’re going to want to store your hazardous materials at
  • Which hazardous materials you’re going to want to keep far away from other hazardous materials
  • How often you’ll need to move hazardous materials around and use them
  • Where to station emergency equipment in relation to certain hazardous materials

Outside of storing hazardous materials in the right places, you also want to make sure they’re labeled properly. A simple labeling error could prove to be catastrophic if you and your employees aren’t careful.

Set Your Employees Up With Training on How to Handle Materials

Once you have a good understanding of the hazardous materials you’re going to be working with in your facility, it’ll be time to teach your employees about them.

More specifically, you’re going to want to offer them extensive training on how to handle the materials in your facility. To do this, you’ll need to find out the right ways to do it yourself and pass on this information.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as OSHA, has some basic training requirements for those companies that work with hazardous materials. Your employees will need to undergo some degree of training to meet these requirements.

But whenever possible, it’s always a good idea for you to go above and beyond. You should meet the OSHA requirements and surpass them to guarantee that your employees are ready to go once they start working with hazardous chemicals.

Provide Your Employees With Personal Protective Equipment for Materials

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been in the news a lot thanks to the lack of it during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s worth noting that PPE is used in more than just hospitals and other medical facilities.

PPE also plays a very important role in many facilities containing hazardous materials. While speaking about the importance of handling hazardous materials in the workplace with your employees is essential, so is setting them up with the PPE they’ll need to work with them.

Some of the PPE that you’re going to want to give to your employees includes:

  • Air-purifying respirators
  • Chemical-resistant gloves
  • Disposable protective suits
  • Hard hats
  • Safety glasses

The PPE you pass out to your employees should offer enough protection based on the hazardous materials they’ll be working with.

Additionally, you should stay up-to-date on the latest PPE to hit the market. PPE manufacturers are always coming up with new innovative ways to protect people from hazardous chemicals. By investing in the latest PPE and giving it to your employees, you can protect them better than ever before.

Remind Your Employees Not to Eat or Drink Near Materials

Generally speaking, most employers don’t want their employees eating or drinking when they’re supposed to be working. If they’re eating or drinking at work, it often means that they’re not paying close enough attention to their jobs.

But it’s especially important for those who work around hazardous materials not to eat or drink while they’re on the clock. They could contaminate their food or beverages with the chemicals that they’re working around if they do.

As the owner and operator of a facility, it’s your job to create a safe space away from hazardous materials for your employees to eat or drink. You shouldn’t ever put them into a position where they have to eat or drink while they’re supposed to be working.

Tell Your Employees to Wash Their Hands After Handling Materials

It seems like you shouldn’t have to tell people that they need to wash their hands after working with hazardous materials, doesn’t it? Yet, people have shown time and time again that they won’t go out of their way to wash their hands if they don’t have to.

Recent studies have shown that about 80% of people don’t wash their hands when they finish using the bathroom. It’s at least part of the reason why things like the coronavirus spread as quickly as they do.

With this in mind, you need to be adamant about forcing your employees to wash their hands every single time they come into contact with hazardous materials. You should preach about the virtues of handwashing over and over again until they can’t help but want to wash their hands when they’re done working.

You should also set up sinks throughout your facility to provide them with plenty of places to wash their hands. These sinks should have antibacterial hand soaps near them as well as any special soaps that you want your employees to use after handling hazardous materials.

Come Up With a System for Hazardous Material Disposal

You won’t have to worry about disposing of all the different hazardous chemicals that you have stored in your facility. Some of them will get used up over time.

But there will come a time when you’ll need to dispose of at least some of the materials. And obviously, you can’t throw these materials out with the rest of your regular trash on garbage day.

Instead, you need to find out how hazardous material disposal needs to be done based on which materials you have in your facility. Oftentimes, you’re going to need to have another company come in and pick the materials up for you so that they can be discarded.

Whatever the case, it’s important for you to research the proper ways to dispose of the different hazardous materials that you have on hand. Your employees should be well-versed when it comes to how to get rid of these materials when your company is done using them.

You could face crippling fines if you don’t go about disposing of hazardous materials in the right way. You could also do damage to the environment and give your company a bad name.

For all these reasons, you shouldn’t take any risks when disposing of hazardous materials. Do things by the book to ensure that you don’t run into any major complications down the line.

Document Any Accidents Involving Hazardous Materials

It doesn’t matter how careful you and your employees are about handling hazardous materials. There is always a small chance that an accident may take place. If one ever does, you and your employees need to take action right away to minimize the damage done by it.

Following a spill or leak involving hazardous materials in your facility, you should:

  • Work to contain the spill or leak as best you can
  • Evacuate the majority of your employees from your facility
  • Contact the proper authorities to come in and secure your facility
  • Notify those in your community about the emergency situation so that they stay away
  • Get medical treatment for any of your employees who require it
  • Make sure your facility is cleaned up properly in the aftermath of the spill or leak
  • Create a full report as far as what happened before, during, and after the spill or leak
  • Reach out to OSHA to discuss the incident further and to find out what sanctions, if any, you might face

You should also work to learn from any accidents that occur in your facility. You can strengthen your rules and regulations regarding hazardous materials by figuring out what you can learn from these types of accidents.

Use These Tips to Maintain a High Level of Safety in Your Facility

As we alluded to earlier, there are dozens of different hazardous materials that you might have stored in your facility. These materials play a key role in your company’s success.

But these materials can take your company down in the blink of an eye if you have employees who aren’t careful with them. If you don’t feel as though you’ve done a good job teaching your employees how to handle hazardous materials, change that by following the tips found here.

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