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Train, Protect to Prevent Chemical Injuries (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“I’m concerned that we’re not doing all we can to handle our laundry chemicals safely. Which chemicals pose the greatest hazard, and how should they be stored? What kind of personal protective equipment is recommended?”

Chemicals Supply: Philip L. Bodner, Metro-Chem, Kearny, N.J.

In more than 30 years of being involved with both powdered and liquid laundry chemicals, I subscribe to an old adage of “Never too safe, never too sorry!”

We are consistently handling strong alkalis, strong acids and many other chemical types that are certainly not good to contact in their concentrated forms [and] each method has its precautions to follow to help keep people safe and free from incident.

philip bodnerPowders are … slower-acting, as they need water and time to fully activate. When your skin comes into contact with it, you have some [time to] wash it off. Still, you should proceed promptly to a sink or hose and get the chemicals off before they become a problem. The same cannot be said about your eyes, as they are extremely vulnerable and not a good place to have powdered detergent or any laundry product deposit.

Therefore, all washroom personnel should wear adequate eye protection … when handling powdered chemicals. We also recommend providing protective garments and disposable gloves that will protect the skin on your hands and keep the regions under your fingernails free from pesky chemical reactions.

Finally, you should always stand to the side when applying chemicals to a product hopper of a turning washer. Maintain specific measuring cups that are marked, and only used for that specific product. Keep the product drum lids closed; this will prevent cross-contamination and lessen the effects of humidity on the products.

With liquid chemicals … you lose that time to get rinsed off, because liquid chemicals are fully active and ready to interact with whatever they touch. Unless you know for sure that a chemical product is relatively benign, such as a neutral detergent, a fabric softener or a liquid starch, it usually is not a good idea to have people pouring and glugging these products into washers at all.

Most safety concerns surrounding liquid injection systems are at the location of the system itself, and involve the chemical drums and the storage of your backup drums. I emphasize again the need for protective clothing, chemical-proof gloves, and, most importantly, quality eye-protection devices. … Your facility should have a working eye-wash station near the wash aisle and chemical system. Some eye-wash stations also include bottles of neutralizing solutions for eye-washing purposes.

Some chemicals are benign [while others] are not so forgiving when we come into contact with them in their concentrated forms.

Liquid alkalis are perhaps at the top of this list, and should be transported and handled with the upmost preparation and care. If there is contact with skin, immediately flush with water and remove any clothing that also may have become contaminated. If alkali gets in your eyes or mouth, immediately flush with water and, in most cases, seek additional medical help. Timely treatment is required. Remember, certain liquid detergents are not neutral and contain alkali, so the same care should be taken when handling these products.

Chlorine-based bleaches are mostly an irritant, pose the most threat to your clothes [and are] extremely reactive when mixed in error with laundry products such as sours, anti-chlors and oxygen-based bleaches.

Oxygen-based bleaches are the most reactive if mixed in error with other chemicals. I advise … to only deal with a product that has been reduced to a safer concentration level … Some suppliers sell full-strength carboys of hydrogen peroxide to keep usage costs lower. The user should be advised of the potential risks. Even at safer concentrations of below 20% available … take great precautions with oxygen bleach by locating it away from the chlorine bleach drums and laundry sour drums. If mixed in error, the reaction is quick and highly undesirable.

For those that incorporate a mildew inhibitor or a bact-stat in their processes, it is important to keep these solutions off your skin. I call these the “slow-burners.” You won’t feel them for a while but they will hurt your skin and can cause severe irritation and blistering. Wear your gloves and eye protection, and if you get these raw products on you, wash it off.

It is recommended that your chemical system’s product pickup probes supplied to be placed in the open drums should be well labeled or color-coded. A color-coded chart that corresponds to each product’s name that matches each product probe should help lessen the chance of mixing up the drums when placing a new one online. Make your signs multilingual. I recommend changing one product drum at a time, and never pull more than one probe at a time. Pulling more than one probe is how mix-ups occur.

Keep bulk chemicals away from the public in a cool, dry place. Excessive heat and sunlight will have a negative effect on some chemicals, such as chlorine bleach. Keep all chemicals from freezing in a storage area that is around 45 degrees or warmer. Some municipalities and water departments require spill-containment skids for storing larger quantities of liquid chemicals, in case of a leaky drum.

There are more things to consider in keeping your workplace as safe as possible. If you’re not sure about any aspect of the chemicals you use, please ask the professional that sells you your products. Stay informed and put the information into practice.

Commercial Laundry: Richard Warren, Linen King, Conway, Ark. 

richard warrenEach laundry plant has five to seven chemicals that are used regularly in the wash process, and a few other chemicals that have periodic or occasional use. Each of these is highly concentrated, making them quite nasty to handle, so you don’t want it on your skin or clothes.

Some chemicals are dangerous when mixed together. They may form gases or possibly become explosive. I keep a copy of the Safety Data Sheet first aid page for each chemical near the location of that chemical. Your chemical tech is a wealth of knowledge regarding his products. Use him. If you can’t find an SDS document, have him send you another. You need them all, and you need to keep them current. The chemical companies are not stingy with any safety info. No one wants anyone hurt for any reason.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is mandatory, of course, and you will need gloves and a chemical-resistant apron to keep the chemicals off you. Goggles are a must, but a face shield is better, and a respirator would be a wise investment.

Be careful of your shoes/boots. If you get them soaked with alkali or builder, they will be history, and your feet will be badly burned. If possible, use chemical-resistant footgear that will cover your shoes. This stuff is unforgiving, and you can’t be too careful.

Many laundries use powders, and when the dust becomes airborne, you don’t know you are at risk until it’s too late. Consider the use of nuisance masks.

Liquids present a different risk. They can be quite slippery, and you can do a lot of personal damage when you fall.

These chemicals are heavy. You will need access to barrel movers, forklifts or at least two guys to move them around. Don’t take chances or shortcuts with laundry chemicals.

These days, packaging is extremely safe, with little risk of leakers or torn bags. However, you need to prepare for the worst case. Don’t wait to formulate your plan until you have stuff all over the floor. Again, the SDS will tell you what to do to contain the product in the event of a spill, and what you will need to use to get the job done.

Be careful, and you will not need luck.

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Bill Bell, Steiner-Atlantic Corp., Miami, Fla.

bill bellWhile chemicals certainly pose a hazard in the laundry, they all serve a purpose in the wash process.

Mixing chemicals poses the greatest hazard. Chemical vendors offer automatic chemical injection systems that accurately measure and dispense detergents and processing chemicals into the wash wheels. This automation helps protects the end-user from having to handle dosing of the chemicals.

It also is important that formula program changes be done by your chemical vendors. They can titrate your wash liquor to make sure everything is working properly. Chemical dosing is a science, and a good chemical vendor can be one of your best assets in your laundry process.

Always keep safety first in your laundry, especially when working near or around chemicals. The proper personal protective equipment (PPE) should always be worn while handling chemicals. Proper gear should consist of eye and face protection, respiratory protection, gloves and long sleeves. Installing an eye-wash station and a water hose near chemical storage is paramount.

If chemicals spill, have them cleaned up immediately. Chemical drums should be used on chemical containment pans, making cleanup easier and helping to eliminate accidental slips and falls. You can get them plumbed with drains so if you have a spill, simply wash it down your drain. Check with your chemical vendor to ensure you have your safety plan in place and are handling your chemicals properly.

Chemical vapors can create problems for the equipment as well as the overall health of the laundry staff. Ever wonder why, over time, your washers start to show signs of rust on the outside? It’s because of chemical vapors.

Also, vapors generated in the oxidation zone and the finish zone in tunnel washers can mix together and produce noxious gases. This not only is dangerous to employees’ health, but causes corrosion to the equipment. It has become common practice to use corrosion-proof power vent exhaust fans on continuous batch washers. It is important to properly size the fan based on the exhaust run. The exhaust can be PVC pipe or stainless steel; never use galvanized duct, as it will leak and rust quickly. Your local equipment vendor should be able to assist with the fans.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!

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