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How to Safely Work with Chemicals on a Construction Site

No matter the building project, chemicals are integral components in a construction site. From sealants to paints, these materials are prerequisites to the complete and regulated construction of a building.

That said, these chemicals need to be properly utilised to ensure their effectiveness. 

Harmful exposure to construction chemicals can lead to health issues like respiratory illnesses and skin irritation to the workers and future inhabitants of the space. Accidental spillages can also cause irreversible environmental damage, posing future risks to the community.

Project supervisors and real estate owners hold a key responsibility in ensuring that they’re following local health and safety compliance. 

This not only helps you stay in line with the law, but it also ensures that your employees and future tenants will remain in good health for years to come.

If you’re wondering how to safely work with chemicals on a construction site, this article will give you some relevant guidelines to ensure that you’re following sound safety practices.

Put your hard hats on. Let’s look at these chemical safety protocols in more detail.

1. Use Secure Storage

The number one thing you have to do to prevent a biohazard risk in your construction site is to properly secure your chemicals. 

Ideally, you should have chemicals set aside in places where they’re not exposed to weather conditions like extreme heat or torrential downpours. This can cause reactivity or degrade the effectiveness of the chemical, which may worsen the chemical’s inherent function.

Furthermore, for more high-risk items, ensure that you have trained personnel supervising the storage area at all times. In addition, ensure your workers are well-trained and equipped with proper instructions on managing chemicals and responding to emergencies effectively.

If a spillage occurs in your construction site, you need to have a secondary containment area to hold the spillage to facilitate the clean-up process. Bunded storage is something you should have set up in case the original containment area is no longer a safe place to store the other chemicals.

2. Let Your Workers Read Safety Data Sheets

Every workplace should have safety data sheets (SDS) of chemicals in their possession. This is to get access to detailed information about the hazard levels and general properties of the chemical that you intend to use on the construction site.

A safety data sheet is provided by the manufacturer or importer of a specific product or chemical. It’s a detailed information sheet, containing chemical protective measures, safety precautions for handling, storing and transporting, as well as the physical, health, and environmental health hazards to know.

Getting your workers up to speed with the SDS is crucial for proper handling of the chemicals on-site. Informing them about it can be the difference maker in having to make a costly interference due to mishandling or keeping expenses low. That’s why it’s important to discuss this matter with your workers before they get to interact with the chemicals.

By having them read the SDS, you allow them to understand the risk involved with the chemical, which can compel them to handle the hazardous materials responsibly. So be sure that they read each chemical SDS often, especially if it’s within their job description to handle these items.

3. Ensure Your Workers Are in Appropriate Attire

Every workplace, especially one involving dangerous chemicals, should be structured in a way that prioritises workplace safety. 

Due to the physical nature of the field, the construction industry is one that has one of the highest mortality and injury rates among any other industry—so it’s important to uphold practices to keep workers safe and comply with health and safety regulations.

One way of upholding this sense of safety is by providing the right protective attire to your workers. This should not be a mere recommendation, but a must-do before entering the construction site.

In particular, you need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as chemical-resistant gloves, goggles, face shields, and protective clothing. 

By enforcing this dress code, you’re minimising the odds of your workers facing health problems like chemical burns and poisoning. In turn, this can make your workplace safe from hazards.

4. Use Clear Signage 

It’s easy for people to overlook safety precautions when it’s not the norm. To remind your workers about the presence of dangerous chemicals in your construction site, you should put up signs indicating hazardous areas around the workplace.

Different signs can be used depending on the chemicals present within the construction site. Pictograms can depict explosive, flammable, oxidising, corrosive, gas under pressure, or chemicals hazardous to the environment. 

The common theme behind each of these signs—at least in the UK—is that they’re often enclosed in a red outline in a diamond-shaped sign, with a white background and black pictogram. 

Using these signs can be a universal communication tool to help prevent accidents and improve safety culture within your site.

5. Ventilate The Workplace

Airborne contaminants from harmful chemicals can linger in an enclosed space, which can put workers at risk of inhaling irritant vapours. 

You want to maintain good airflow throughout your workplace. This can help protect your worker’s health and keep them contributing to the construction of your building project.

One way of doing so is by installing mechanical ventilation in high-risk areas around your construction site. A fan or exhaust system can disperse these vapours and keep your workspace adequately protected.

A good alternative option is to simply encourage leaving windows and doors open throughout the workspace. This way, the vapours can disperse on their own, preventing any unwanted toxic substance buildups.

6. Limit Site Visits From Untrained Personnel

Chemical handling is a specialised task. It’s important to keep visitors away from sensitive areas to minimise the risk of accidental exposure to not just themselves, but the entire workforce and surrounding community.

To do so, keep chemicals away from exposed areas and instead place them in storage areas with limited access. Ensure that the chemicals are guarded and locked when not in use and that they’re not carelessly lying around the site.

By upholding high safety standards, you can reduce the risk of potential hazards and uphold safety in the workplace.

7. Prepare Emergency Response

Accidents can happen when you least expect it, even if you’ve been enforcing the strictest safety protocols. If it does happen, be sure to have contingency plans to mitigate it from worsening.

For starters, be sure you have a first aid worker on site. Have a medical kit and medical equipment in an easily accessible area. This can ensure that patients can be immediately treated when exposed to harmful chemicals.

Secondly, having a robust response plan is also essential and should be disseminated to everyone on the construction site. Conduct regular drills and emergency preparedness training sessions to protect your workers.

Having a plan during emergencies can keep your workers safe from harm’s way. As such, be sure to conduct regular training sessions to reduce the severity of a disaster following a chemical-related workplace accident.