Handling Chemicals at Work

Many construction projects require the use of chemicals. Cement is a mixture of chemicals and other ingredients. Pesticides and cleaning products are chemicals, too. They are everywhere and involved at every stage of the construction process.

All have different strengths and can affect people in different ways if they come into contact with them. However, even chemicals which are classed as rather harmless need to be handled appropriately.

This is why is it so important for those working on a construction site to have a thorough understanding of the types of chemicals they may be dealing with and the precautions they need to take with each. Health, Safety and Environment training will be essential, too, as well as effective on-site communication.

The Health and Safety Executive notes that although chemicals are part of everyday life, they still need to be considered as something that has the potential to be very dangerous and must be treated with respect.

This guide will aim to give you advice on dealing with chemicals to ensure you and your team are safe at all times and can feel confident they know exactly how to handle them.


If you are an employer

Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of workers on sites where chemicals are used. The law requires you to control the use of chemicals at work, which requires you to assess the need for chemicals and control and monitor their use.

Identify chemicals

Which chemicals are needed on your site? Once you have identified their need, you need to know the effects they can have on those coming into contact with them.

Asthma, dermatitis and cancer are just some of the side effects of dealing with chemicals in the wrong way. Therefore, you also need to assess the personal protection equipment required when dealing with chemicals, including breathing apparatus and gloves and disposable clothing.

The COSHH website gives users some more information.


Display Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Chemicals which are classed as 'dangerous to buy' will come with an SDS. An SDS describes the hazards which are possible and will provide information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of an accident. These should clearly be displayed on site, and all users of the chemical should be made aware of the hazards.


Know the risks

As well as identifying the effects on humans using the chemicals, you need to know the chemical's properties. This includes whether it is toxic, flammable or contains lead. Biocides and pesticides need to be assessed for their potential effect on the environment, too.


Basic Handling Guidelines

Both employers and employees will need to be aware of basic handling guidelines. Even if your job does not involve chemical contact, you must know how to safely handle chemicals and other substances.

Reducing exposure to chemicals, and understanding proper handling, can reduce the risk of accidents, injuries, and illnesses on the job.

  • Always read the relevant Safety Data Sheet (SDS) before handling a chemical
  • Follow workplace health and safety guidance relevant to your individual workplace, as laid out in your health and safety plans
  • Know when a chemical is particularly hazardous and requires additional measures to control and handle
  • Inform others if working with chemicals
  • Never allow chemicals to come into contact with bare skin, even if said chemical is perceived as harmless
  • Always wear eye, mouth, and nose protection when near chemicals
  • Never smell chemicals to identify them
  • Don't eat, drink, or take breaks in areas with chemicals
  • Tie loose hair back and remove all jewellery or other potentially loose items
  • Wash hands frequently and well after handling chemicals
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