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Chemical Safety in the Workplace

5 April 2024

Chemical Safety in the Workplace (and Occupational Health in general) is often overlooked when compared to Occupational Safety. The reason might be that the exposure to chemicals in the workplace might not cause illness or injury when exposure occurred, but months, if not years later. According to the Irish Cancer Society ‘work related cancer is increasing year on year with 5% of all cancers linked to occupation. Lung cancer represents nearly a quarter of all these cancers. Across Europe, exposure to cancer causing elements at work is estimated to cause at least 80,000 deaths a year. In Ireland this is over 400.’

The majority of the workplaces, across all industries use chemicals in some form. A number of chemicals are all around us to which employees could be routinely exposed. For example, paints, sprays, toners and inks, adhesives, petrol, solvents and not to mention a wide range of materials used in cleaning and maintenance such as detergents and oils.

All workplaces must assess the workplace against the risk of chemicals. These risks must be managed.


Why is Chemical Safety in the Workplace Important

Chemicals can cause serious harm. This harm can range from mild skin irritation to cancer. Whilst sometimes the effects of chemical exposure can be seen immediately after contact (e.g. chemical burn), some might be evident many years after the exposure (e.g. cancer – mesothelioma). Mesothelioma is related to asbestos exposure, continues to increase and it is estimated that about 56 people a year get this disease. There is no cure for this fatal form of asbestos related disease.


Chemical Safety in the Workplace and Key Duties of Employers and Employees

There are key duties for employers and employees under the relevant health and safety legislation:

Employers are required to:

  • Determine which hazardous substances are present in the workplace.
  • Assess the risks to employees and others from the presence of these hazardous substances.
  • Prevent or control exposure to the hazardous substances to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
  • Have arrangements in place to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.
  • Provide information, training and consultation to employees.
  • Make available health surveillance to employees.

Employees also have duties. They must:

  • Co-operate with their employer e.g. follow procedures.
  • Make full and proper use of control measures e.g. using extract ventilation where provided, and report any defects.
  • Report any defects in plant/ equipment immediately to the employer as appropriate.
  • Report any accident or incident which may have resulted in the release of a dangerous
  • chemical/substance into the workplace.


Assessing Chemical Safety in the Workplace

A chemical risk assessment follows the same steps as a risk assessment for any other hazards in the workplace. For some additional information, please read eLearn Safety blog entry from 12 January 2024 titled Workplace Risk Assessment.

There are three basic steps to chemical risk assessment:

  1. Identify the Hazard: This involves identifying the chemicals you have in your workplace and the hazards associated with them.
  2. Assess the Risk: This involves assessing the risk from chemicals or processes in your workplace.
  3. Control the Exposure: This involves considering the various recognized control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk.

Please remember – if you are unsure of any aspect of managing chemicals safely in your workplace, you should seek help from a competent person.


Implementation of Suitable Control Measures

Once you have assessed the risk associated with the use of your chemicals, you then need to decide what control measures are required to keep you, your employees and your workplace safe.
At this stage you should also consider any current control measures that are in place, such as:

  • Type of engineering controls e.g. enclosures and ventilation – are they effective and maintained regularly?
  • Current work practices or procedures.
  • Personal protective and safety equipment.
  • Training provided to employees. The Chemical Safety course provided by eLearn Safety is a fully online course that describes the risks associated with exposure to chemicals and looks into control measures in place to avoid the risks.
  • Hygiene arrangements e.g. separate meal and wash facilities.
  • Storage arrangements.
  • Level of housekeeping.
  • Disposal of waste.
  • Emergency procedures e.g. eyewash, emergency shower.


Online Health and Safety Training

Proactive Health and Safety training is critical to ensure a safe workplace. An effective training program can reduce the number of worker injuries and deaths. It can also reduce instances of property damage, legal liability, illnesses, and missed time from work.

Health and Safety training helps establish a culture in which employees themselves help promote proper safety procedures while on the job. It is important that new employees be properly trained and embrace the importance of workplace safety. The role of training in developing and maintaining effective hazard control activities is a proven and successful method of intervention.

This is why we have established Myelearsafety school. We pride ourselves in how we guide, support and mentor our students. They receive support throughout their learning experience and into their working lives. Our staff have extensive training experience and also have many years industry experience. We understand the challenges that exist within Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. Our priority is to ensure that all learners are fully prepared to differentiate themselves in the workplace after completing our Health and Safety courses.

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Health and Safety courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email

eLearn Online Health and Safety Training

eLearn Online Health and Safety Training