There are strict UK and EU regulations about working with chemicals, which are designed to ensure that people stay safe within the workplace. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not always followed correctly and many employers fail to put in place the correct safety procedures to protect their workers.
However, by understanding the potential dangers working with chemicals can pose, you can have a clearer idea of how to stay safe. If you believe you have been injured by working with chemicals, knowing the risks you may have been exposed to can help to identify the issue and give you an idea of what action you can take next.
The six main groups of hazardous substances
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) divides hazardous substances into six main types:
Explosive – Chemicals and other substances that have the potential to explode, in many cases if exposed to naked flame, high heat or other sources of ignition.
Flammable – Substances which can be ignited, again most commonly by naked flame, sparks and other sources of ignition or high temperatures.
Oxidising – Oxidising materials are substances that readily produce oxygen or other oxidising substances (e.g. bromine or chlorine). They can increase the risks of fire or explosion if not handled correctly.
Corrosive – This covers chemicals that can damage your tissue if they come into contact with your bare skin, eyes or any other part of your body.
Acute toxicity – These are chemical which can poison you or have other health effects. They can be particularly hazardous as the effects are often not immediately obvious upon exposure.
Hazardous to the environment – Some chemicals may pose a low risk to you, but can be hazardous to plants and animals, so also need to be handled with care.
Each of these types of hazardous substance has its own associated pictogram, making it easy to quickly identify the potential risks posed by any particular chemical or other hazardous substance.
Why risk assessments matter
When working with any hazardous chemicals, you, your employer or your manager should carry out a risk assessment to work out all of the potential dangers posed by working with those chemicals. The person responsible for assessing risk should then produce a clear action plan for every one working with or near the chemicals to follow to make sure the risks are minimised.
If you are asked to work with hazardous chemicals and you are not provided with details of a risk assessment and how to avoid any dangers associated with the chemicals in question, you should request this information to ensure that you are working safely.
The importance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When working with any potentially hazardous chemicals, you should be issued with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This will likely include items such as goggles, gloves, a face mask and overalls, depending on the exact nature of the chemicals in question.
What to do if you have been injured by chemicals at work
If you believe you have been injured as a result of working with chemicals, you may be entitled to industrial disease compensation. Your employer is required to carry out risks assessments and develop a plan before you are asked to work with any potentially hazardous substances. They should also provide you with protective equipment so that your can carry out the work safely. If any of this has not been fully carried out and you have been injured as a result, you could be entitled to compensation. This can help you to fund the cost of any treatment or additional support you need, as well as compensating you if you are unable to work due to your condition and to help provide for your loved ones.
To find out if you are likely to be able to claim compensation, it is a good idea to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer specialising in industrial disease. They will be able to advise you on how strong your claim is and what level of compensation you may be able to receive. Many personal injury solicitors work on a no win, no fee basis, meaning anyone should be able to pursue a claim if they have a strong case.