Chemical-Related Injuries Can Be Avoided with Proper Training, Protection (Part 1 of 2)

“I’m concerned that we’re not doing all we can to handle our laundry chemicals safely. What chemicals pose the greatest hazards? How should they be stored? Are there records we should be keeping? What kind of personal protective equipment is recommended?”Commercial Laundering: Richard Warren, Linen King of Central Arkansas, Conway, Ark.
This can be scary sometimes, but there is really no good reason for facilities or personnel to be worried. All of the chemicals have MSDS — Material Safety Data Sheets. If you don’t have them, get them. Many suppliers have them available online. If they don’t, or if you’re not connected, call your representative or call the company directly and request them.
The MSDS will describe to you what you’re dealing with, what interactions are dangerous, and what to do if exposed. Since wash chemicals are handled so much, I prefer to keep an additional copy of the first aid procedures in the same area where these chemicals are stored. MSDS are required to be in at least two worker-accessible locations in the plant.
Positioning the emergency shower and eyewash station near the laundry chemicals is a good idea. Goggles, gloves and an apron that covers the worker’s clothing are a must. Training your employees in the desired method of handling the laundry chemicals is mandatory. Documentation and records of incidents need to be retained forever, just in case.
Your local fire department and wastewater treatment people have an interest in the laundry chemicals, too, and you’re probably visited by these agencies on a regular basis. You need someone in your plant who is extremely comfortable with all phases and can communicate with anyone regarding the program.
All of that being said, the common-sense approach is to be aware that alkali or bleach are going to hurt if they contact a worker’s skin. Sour won’t feel good, either. Chlorine and peroxide must be separated at all times, as well as chlorine and sour. The former combination is explosive, and the gas from the latter combo will empty the building.
Additionally, all of these chemicals are heavy in bulk, and special training may be needed to minimize the risk of lifting injuries. Automatic dispensing equipment greatly reduces the risk of physical contact, by eliminating manual injections into the wash wheel.
Storage? Cool, dry and dark is the rule. Is that practical? Not usually, but your facility and the chemical representative can work out the best practical solution. How you’re going to handle spills or leaks and who will handle them are important. The procedures may not be the same for all plants, but there is a best one for you, and it needs to be in writing. Also, train for these possible events.
When it comes to safety, I’m a big advocate of personal responsibility. Whether you’re working with chemicals, working on machinery or changing a tire on your car, haste is literally a killer.
Too many times, all the action plans are in place, training has occurred, and documentation is in everybody’s file, but we’re in a rush. We take shortcuts and things usually work out. But sometimes they don’t. Our lame excuse is, “I’ve done it a thousand times and nothing ever happened.” Now we have to deal with personal injury or property damage. It’s careless, unprofessional and unnecessary. We need to take time and think for ourselves.Technical Support: Jim Mitchell, Ecolab, Eagan, Minn.
Having spent more than 28 years in the laundry chemical business, I’ve witnessed my share of chemical-related accidents. Some caused permanent injury to customers and co-workers. In most cases, injury could have been avoided if the individual had worn proper personal protective gear and/or been properly trained in chemical-handling procedures.Greatest Hazards: We should be careful answering the question of what chemicals pose the greatest hazards, as it could be misleading to employees. All laundry chemicals should be considered hazardous. Even your basic fabric softener can have an MSDS “Health Hazard Rating” of 2. Employees should be trained to handle all laundry chemicals with care according to the label directions for use and the MSDS. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn when handling any chemicals as outlined in that product’s MSDS.
Some product chemistry is obviously more dangerous to handle than others:
Alkali — The dominant raw material in break products and some built detergents is extremely hot and caustic, capable of causing severe burns and permanent damage to eyes. There can be a few seconds’ delay between skin contact and the reaction.
Sodium Hypochlorite — Used in liquid chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite can cause permanent eye damage. If accidentally mixed with acids/sours, inhalation of the fumes can damage the respiratory tract.
Hydrogen Peroxide — This dominant ingredient in oxygen bleach (and some other products) can cause extremely painful burns to skin and permanent damage to eyes.
Acids/Sours — There are many different types of acids used in a souring product: phosphoric, citric, oxalic, hydrofluosilicic (HFS), peroxyacetic, etc. Some are more dangerous to handle than others, particularly the HFS and peroxyacetic acids.
Each product’s MSDS should outline basic product storage guidelines for concentrates in the “Handling and Storage” section. Generally, keep them out of the reach of children. Keep containers tightly closed and in a cool, well-ventilated area. Store at a temperature of 15 to 40 degrees Celsius.Storage: Containers of products exceeding 55 gallons individual, or 1,000 gallons total, may require storage on a containment pallet, or in an area enclosed with a containment barrier. The 2006 Uniform Fire Code manual (Spill Control and Secondary Containment for Hazardous Materials Liquids and Solids), available for purchase from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), details this information. The 2009 manual is scheduled for release this month.Recordkeeping: New employees who will be handling chemicals, or who may come in contact with chemicals while working, are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to attend a hazard communication training session prior to working.
All employees are required to attend an annual hazard communication training session. A detailed record of these training sessions must be available for inspection. This includes the name of the individual attending, the date the session was held, and the subject matter discussed.Personal Protective Equipment: The corresponding MSDS will highlight any PPE required for handling each product. Wearing this protective gear when handling the product is not only a good safety practice, it’s also required by OSHA. This equipment can include:

  • Chemical splash goggles
  • Face shield
  • Chemical-resistant gloves
  • Synthetic apron
  • Air-purifying or air-fed respirator.

Training employees what to use for PPE, as well as how to use them, should be part of your hazard communication training.(Come back next week for Part 2 of this story!)


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