How to Reduce Toxic Substances as Occupational Hazards

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Up-close of a caution label saying DangerMost workplaces host a health hazard of some kind, whether it is dangerous machinery or poorly designed office equipment. From construction sites and laboratories, to call centers and schoolrooms, occupational hazards are present and unavoidable. However, their presence can be reduced and the chances of injury or illness minimized. Organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor, functions with the sole purpose of addressing occupational hazard concerns.

OSHA employs a large number of passionate safety professionals, tasking them with finding solutions or creating regulations for all workplace health hazards. Some are unique and specific to an occupation, such as height safety within construction. Others are universal, such as maintaining clear walkways. Of the commonly present workplace hazards, toxic substances can be the most dangerous. They fulfill a wide variety of purposes, but they can cause severe, possibly fatal, illness and injury.

Toxic Substances

Toxic substances such as ammonia, acid, bleach, chlorine, and carbon monoxide can cause adverse health effects when utilized improperly. Even common toxic substances like household cleaners can be deadly if inhaled, touched, or swallowed. OSHA professionals ceaselessly establish and adapt safety standards to minimize the dangerous consequences associated with toxic substances. However, regulations only toe the line of safety. The goal is to reduce toxic substances within the workplace to the point they no longer pose a threat.

According to OSHA resources, at least 240,000 illness and fatality cases occur annually due to toxic substance exposure. In order to reduce the amount of damages caused by toxic exposure, OSHA safety professionals need additional assistance. Safety is an interactive process calling on everyone to be aware, educated, and careful.

To help businesses make their own safety improvements, OSHA provides an easily accessible online chemical substitution toolkit. While the safety professionals improve general standards, businesses can use the toolkit to reduce toxic substances in the workplace through substitution. The following steps from OSHA’s toolkit can reduce risks and improve efficiency for any business interested in safe toxic substance use.

Form a Team

Prior to identifying current workplace toxic substances, substitution options, or beginning any transitional steps, a team needs to be formed. The team is comprised of members with diverse occupational responsibilities such as union representatives, maintenance staff, engineers, and managers to fully comprehend everyone’s needs. It is the team’s mission to form toxic substance reduction goals and devise the process through which the goals will be accomplished. Toxic substances are usually workplace specific which is why a diverse, internal team is optimal for determining the appropriate goals.

Examine Current Toxic Substance Inventory

Once the team has established the goals – for example, elimination of bleach usage or chemical cost reduction – they need to assess the current stock. The team can quickly identify potential candidates for substitution by developing a comprehensive information guide of all toxic substances including: use, price, volatility, storage, disposal, and quantity among other characteristics. Then, they can prioritize which toxic substances to replace based on goal relevance. Prioritization assists in the substitution process by defining which chemicals need to be replaced first due to goal objectives.

Identify Alternatives and Compare

After the team has identified which toxic chemicals to be removed first, they can begin searching for alternatives. Alternatives may be better or worse depending on the pre-determined criteria. If the goal is to reduce costs, then alternatives are categorized by price. If the goal is to reduce health hazards, then then the team will search for safer alternatives. The team can also think outside of substitution by considering process, design, and technological changes. For example, there may be a better storage design for a toxic substance that reduces health risks.

Identifying and comparing alternatives is a tedious step due to the attention to detail required. The team has to carefully compare all aspects of alternative options and their relevance to the sought-after goals. Once they fully understand their options and potential effects, they can make a selection.

Select, Test, and Implement

The team’s substitution selections are presented with the supporting rationale to avoid any miscommunication and maintain transparency. Reducing toxic substances in the workplace is, first and foremost, to the benefit of workers exposed to them. Allowing everyone to see the selection process and the supporting data invites last-minute concerns that may have been overlooked. The alternative then moves from selection to testing.
Before implementing change on a grand scale, the alternative is put to the test in a localized area. It may work on paper, but testing it in the field can produce different results. Expediency is not helpful when managing toxic substances. It’s important to implement the alternative at the appropriate speed or else suffer dangerous consequences.

Once the alternative has been successfully tested on a pilot scale, the full implementation process can begin. It may take time and should follow a rigid schedule to minimize accidents. Implementation should be accompanied by instructional education important to the alternatives’ use or storage. Even after the substitute has been wholly adopted, further analysis may be required to determine if there are any negative long-term effects.

Minimizing Occupational Hazards

Thanks to technological and chemical advancements, many toxic substances have been reduced or removed in the workplace. Unfortunately, the annual amount of toxic substance cases being reported suggest further reduction is needed. Those who are passionate about safety or have an interest in chemicals may find a career with OSHA. They work diligently to create and uphold safety regulations that keep the workplace safe from toxic substances and more.

Learn More

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

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