If your company uses or stores chemicals then it is of vital importance that you understand the hazards of what you are dealing with.
Hazardous substances can pose a significant risk to health and safety, whether it's a fire or explosion risk or a danger to the environment, and a lack of knowledge on the dangers of the substances can increase the level of risk that employees, and even customers, are exposed to.
Many of the most commonly-used chemicals are not dangerous unless they are used, stores or disposed of in an improper way, but it is still important to know what to do in event of something going wrong, such as a spillage or leak.
However, there are chemicals that require more safe handling than others, and a misuse of these can have serious consequences.
Labels are an extremely valuable source of information when it comes to ascertaining to the hazardousness of a chemical.
They can tell you what inherent dangers a chemical possesses, and how you can mitigate the risk involved with using it.
Many of the symbols that appear on chemicals should be familiar as they appear on everyday household products such as bleach and air freshener. A variety of black motifs on an orange background - including a skull and crossbones and a black cross - each represent a different meaning and offer important information about the properties of the chemical.
The symbols indicate numerous things about the chemicals contained inside, including whether it might be explosive, oxidising, highly or extremely flammable, corrosive, or dangerous to the environment. Some products may include more than one of these symbols.
In a guide to the labelling of chemicals, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) illustrated the issue, using the organic compound glutaraldehyde as an example.
This substance is both toxic and dangerous to the environment, as indicated on the label by two distinctive symbols (skull and crossbones, and a bare tree with a dead fish). Additional written information is provided, detailing the risks of the chemical (known as risk phrases), such as: Toxic by inhalation and if swallowed, Causes burns, Very toxic to aquatic organisms etc. and what precautions need to be taken (known as safety phrases) such as: Keep away from heat and Avoid contact with eyes.
On the basis of this information, companies can incorporate the use of hazardous substances into their risk assessments, under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
"By law, suppliers of chemicals are required to label their products with hazard symbols, warnings and safety advice if a chemical is dangerous; managers in workplaces where chemicals are kept or used must ensure that the chemicals are used safely," the HSE explained.
In some instances, manufacturers will also include instructions for use either on the label, or on an accompanying leaflet. Where chemicals are hazardous, suppliers are obliged to provide safety data sheets providing information for the user to decide how to use it safely in their own workplace.
Adequate training and information should be given to any workers whose role involves using, or coming into contact with, hazardous substances.
Employees should be given access to such material and may request it if they wish to learn more about how to use a hazardous substance.
The risks involved with the use of hazardous substances can be drastically reduced when they are properly assessed and employees are educated on how to implement safe working practices.
Over the next few years, some changes to the law on how chemicals are labelled and classified will be gradually introduced. A new European Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures - known as the CLP regulation - is currently in force in the UK and all other European Union contries. Between now and 2015, the CLP regulation will replace the existing system of classification, labelling and packaging.
Andrew Couch, consultant for Aviva Risk Management Solutions, said: "Chemicals and chemical products can be dangerous in lots of different ways. The type of hazard and degree of risk depends on not just the chemical, but how you are using it. The starting point for any assessment has to be understanding the substance and how it can cause harm. The starting point for this has got to be to read the label. So much information can be gained in such an easy way."Do you need a safe and convenient storage solution for hazardous materials on your premises? If you do, then our preferred supplier, Denios can help and great discounts are available to Aviva insured customers. please call the Aviva Risk Helpline on 0845 3 66 66 66 for more information