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Let us ensure we do something in our places of work and homes today, no matter how small. Chemical use has become an integral part of our modern daily lives and we cannot dispute this fact. With the trend of development in divers areas, chemical usage will certainly be on the rise and we obviously may not be able to stop this but it is within out rights to adequately control the effects and levels of exposure. This is called chemical management processes.

Hearing the name “Chemical” your thoughts might be as erroneous as mine was years back thinking after all i do not use chemicals. You might be right but not in absolute.

If we have had cause to clean our toilets, mop our floors, wash our clothes and involved in any way in either domestic or industrial cleaning processes using any of the cleaning agents, we have had dealings with chemicals.

Have you had medications or fumigated your house of late, have you used any form of pesticides or insecticides owing to malaria endemicity within our region, then we have had contact with chemicals.

Chemicals are key to healthy living and modern convenience. They range from pesticides that improve the extent and quality of food production, to pharmaceuticals that cure illnesses, and cleaning products that help establish hygienic living conditions. Chemicals are also critical in many industrial processes for developing products important to global standards of living.

However, governments, employers and workers continue to struggle to address controlling exposure to these chemicals in the workplace, as well as limiting emissions to the environment”  International Labour Organisation.

Do you go through the roads where you are exposed to heavy vehicle fumes? That is another form of chemicals. Which ever way you look at it, chemicals have come to live with us and it is our responsibility to know the contents of the chemicals we are exposed to and the inherent health hazards. This will absolutely be the first step in safe guarding our kidneys and lungs which are the two major organs where chemical inhalation really hurts us as human beings.

By virtue of exposure to chemical inhalation in your work processes, you are by right expected to undergo medical evaluation test twice a year to look at the functionality of both your lungs and kidneys and possible damages that have been constituted due to your chemical exposure level. The medical evaluation processes include but not limited to:

  • Spirometry test
  • Electrolyte, Urea and Creatinine

These are very basic and periodic medical evaluation that focus mainly on the state of your lungs and the kidney. Upon completion of the evaluation, if there are spikes or indicators that warrant a further Physician’s review, we will gladly make this referral because early detection gives you a better disease management opportunity and increase our survival chances.

These are not obviously the only areas where chemicals hurt. What about people who daily work with chemicals as Industrial Chemist, others who apply them daily for general cleaning or blasting corroded pipes and rusty metals, we should also get concerned about these ones. The effects are not only on the internal organs but also on the skin surface and that is why you hear of skin burns, skin tissues and the likes of it.

Chemicals have high spilling potentials in our workplaces if processes are not well spelt out and managed. Chemical spill could lead to death of a group of people depending on the nature of chemical, quantity spilled, proximity to the chemical and duration of the chemical contact before medical help came their way.

Every chemical available for use, the user must be well informed of the chemical hazardous contents and every form of information that is available as it concerns the chemical. There is always an accompanying document to chemicals called Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or Safe Handling of Chemical (SHOC) cards, these documents are made available within each chemical type to equip users with all the handling information necessary. We have realised that most people do not even read these documents, they get too familiar with the chemicals as working tools and they handle them without reading the accompanying chemical handling information and people get affected at different degrees.

Having been informed on the chemical inherent danger and handling processes, there is also the need for everyone who will get involved in the application of those chemicals to be fully protected with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) which is expected to protect the user from the harmful effects of the chemicals. When we say PPE we do not mean any form of PPE, we are referring to requisite and adequate PPEs addressing the specific threats posed by the chemical types. Of late we have noticed in most companies and workplaces, people just go to safety shops to buy anything just because they were told PPE is a work pre-condition and the PPE they end up acquiring has no form of relevance with their risk exposure they intend to address, this is not safety.

Outside the chemical information and provision of PPEs, there is also the need for adequate training of the personnel that will daily use the chemicals. This is a very critical point in the entire chemical handling processes. That you used a similar chemical in another environment or project location does not mean the processes and application methods must remain the same even in the age to come. We must learn to submit ourselves to training and retraining even on the chemicals we feel we are so knowledgeable of, when you introduce any form of new chemicals there must be the need to retrain your people to adapt their skills to the new chemical type. When there is any form of change in the application processes, we must also undergo a retraining to ensure adaptation to the new processes.

What is our level of preparedness to chemical hazards response? There is a concept called Remedial Action Plan (RAP) which is put in place to remedy any form of release of threats or severity when there is a failure in our existing health and safety processes or management system. Example is having informed your employees on the hazardous nature of the chemical in use, you have made provisions for all the necessary PPEs and adequately trained them on the application processes and use of the chemical type and you still experience chemical spills into the eyes. You should also be proactive enough to make provision for eye wash within the workplace; the eye wash can be used to quickly irrigate the eyes to limit the harmful effects of the chemicals before having access to adequate medical attention. These and many more are some of the processes that can limit our chemical hazard exposure within our workplaces and safeguard lives in no little way.

In rounding off on this article i will also point out the prevalence of chemical hazards as a result of storage. We have also been to many workplaces where chemicals are stored in clinical cans and other form of storage materials without adequate labelling and sad to know this is also a huge contributor to domestic hazards. In my days in active clinical services, we have had instances where children were rushed into the hospitals as a result of chemical absorption; they drink kerosene, medical syrups in bottles and other forms of colourless chemicals stored in cans within the reach of children and mostly infants in our homes.

In some cases, chemicals are stored in cans without proper labelling and anyone could work with some wrong assumption that could lead to a very costly end. Even the temperature under which chemicals are stored should be a key condition to consider in the entire chemical hazard management processes. These requirements are all spelt out in the Material Safety Data Sheet and Safe Handling of Chemical documents and i think we should give these conditions due consideration in our continuous efforts in working with chemicals.

I wish every reader a happy World Health and Safety Day at Work 2014 and we are looking forward to doing something different God willing in 2015. If anyone must die, let it not be as a result of chemical hazard exposure. Stay safe.

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Ehi Iden


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Ehi Iden editor