Don't Eat, Touch, or Smell: Hazardous materials

Online feature/Maintenance Matters

Don't Eat, Touch, or Smell

Hazardous Materials

By Fred Workley

September 2004

I worked with a mechanic who claimed he used engine oil as hair oil. One day after our shift he was adding a quart of oil to his old Pontiac, and I asked him if that was his brand of hair oil. He quickly said he only used ashless dispersant. A couple of weeks later, I saw him use a little ashless dispersant oil out of an empty can on his hair. It must have worked. He never got bitten by mosquitoes.

Don't take any chances. Many materials used in the workplace present a health hazard to you. You need to know how to protect yourself from hazards. Here are some general considerations. Common sense is your first line of defense. Pay attention to your workplace and what you use to get the job done. Ask yourself if there is another way to do the job to avoid hazardous chemical exposure.

Try to lessen your exposure by substitution of a less hazardous substance (e.g. substitute cyclohexane for benzene, substitution of a less hazardous equipment or process (e.g. safety cans for glass bottles), isolation of the operator or the process, ventilation in the work area (e.g. use of fume hoods), review job procedures to determine what is used and what safety precautions should be taken, and what hazard education on materials, chemicals, and information is available.

There are three main routes by which hazardous chemicals enter the body: through inhalation (most important in terms of severity), through the skin by absorption or puncture, and through the digestive tract which occurs through eating or smoking with contaminated hands or in contaminated work areas.

Personal protective devices
Personal protective devices are used to reduce or eliminate exposures to hazardous chemical exposure. Protective eye protection and clothing is important. Eye and face injuries are prevented by the use of the following: safety glasses with side shields for dust and flying object protection; chemical splash goggles for chemical splash, spray and mist protection; and face and neck shields for head and neck protection from various hazards. These must be used with safety glasses or goggles. Skin and body protection involves protective clothing and may pertain to either specific body parts or the entire body. This equipment and garments should not leave the workplace.

When there is danger to the skin due to contact with a hazardous chemical, your clothes can be protected from chemical contamination by wearing lab coats, coveralls, aprons, or protective suits. Before using a chemical, you should check to make sure of the proper type of glove needed. You can check for the proper chemical protective clothing by looking in the catalog used to purchase the gloves or talking to your supervisor. For work generating heavy contamination, special attention must be given to sealing all openings in the clothing. Tape can be utilized for this purpose. Caps should be worn to protect hair from contamination. General categories of contaminants include: dirt and grease, toxic dust, hazardous chemicals, radioactive materials, and bacteriological agents.

Respirators are designed to protect only against certain specific types of substances and in certain concentration ranges, depending on the type of equipment used. Respirator and cartridge selection is based on the hazard and the protection factors required. These types of respiratory protective equipment include: gas and vapor-removing air purifying respirators, particle-removing air purifying respirators, and atmosphere supplying respirators. You should familiarize yourself with the limitations of each type of respiratory protective equipment used and the signals for respirator failure (odor breakthrough, filter clogging, etc.).

Respirators should not be used except in conjunction with a complete respiratory protection program. If your work requires the use of a respirator, you may be required to receive special training and may be required to participate in the medical monitoring program. Respiratory protective equipment should fit snugly. Respirators should be used in conjunction with a complete respiratory protection periodic training program.

Degree of protection
To recap, inappropriate handling of hazardous materials may result in exposure to personnel and the environment. The actual degree of protection required will depend upon the agent, concentration, and risk of exposure to it from routine procedures and accidents. Exposures to strong acids, acid gases, organic chemicals, strong oxidizing agents, radioactive material, etiological agents, carcinogens, and mutagens require the use of protective equipment that prevents skin contamination. Impervious protective equipment must be utilized. Examples include: rubber gloves, rubber boots, rubberized suits and special protective equipment.

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document listing the chemical hazard and safe handling information pertaining to a specific chemical or compound and is prepared in accordance with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. Chemical manufacturers and distributors must provide the purchasers of hazardous chemicals with an appropriate MSDS for each hazardous chemical purchased. The MSDS will contain special first-aid information.

If an MSDS was not provided with the shipment of a hazardous chemical, you must request one from the manufacturer or distributor in a timely manner. Current MSDS sheets are usually in a central location and kept in yellow binders. The MSDS will list the personal protective equipment recommended for use with the chemical. The MSDS addresses 'worse case' conditions. Use common sense, and to make you feel comfortable it's OK to be overprotected. Check the MSDS for special ventilation requirements such as, use with adequate ventilation, use in a fume hood, avoid inhalation of vapors, and provide local ventilation. Ventilation recommendations must be adapted to the worksite and the specific process. You are especially urged to set a personal example of safe practices.

Safety procedures
If you get chemicals in the eyes irrigate with plenty of cool water for at least 15 minutes, use eyewash or other water source, simultaneously check for and remove contact lenses, and provide the ambulance crew and physician with the chemical name and any other relevant information. If possible, send the container or the MSDS with the victim.

For chemicals on the skin in small areas, immediately flush with cold water. If there is no visible burn, remove any residual material and scrub area with warm water and soap. If a delayed reaction is noted, report immediately for medical attention and explain carefully what chemicals were involved. If there is any doubt, seek immediate medical attention. Provide the ambulance crew and physician with the chemical name and any other relevant information. Again if possible, send the container or the MSDS with the victim.

Chemical spills on a large area of the body require quickly removing all contaminated clothing while using the safety shower or other available source of water. This is not the time for modesty. Be very careful that during removal of the contaminated clothing that the hazardous material is not spread further. Immediately flood the affected body area in cold water for at least 15 minutes and do not use neutralizing chemicals, salves, creams, or lotions.

It's up to you to keep yourself and others safe from hazardous materials and chemicals. Keep 'em Flying.

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Alexandria, VA, San Jose, CA, and Indianapolis, IN. He holds an A&P certificate with an Inspection Authorization, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground instructor licenses.