We continue our series on safety and loss control with something applicable to our lives both in and out of the workplace – good workplace hygiene. The news is constantly telling us about the various illnesses impacting populations, and many of them are preventable with better hygiene practices.
When touring facilities it is common to see workers eating and drinking around the work area. In many cases there are toxic chemicals on the work bench or in the workers general work area. The goal of management is to prevent accidental exposures caused by inhaling or ingesting hazardous substances. Below is a list of seven good workplace hygiene practices. By consistently practicing good hygiene when working with hazardous substances, exposures caused by accidental cross-contamination can be prevented.
The best safety and health management practices involve not only the employer, but the individuals in the company buying into the health and safety culture.
- Smoke, eat, and drink only in designated areas away from areas where hazardous materials are used or stored. Small amounts of the substances may be present in the area, and smoking, eating, and drinking nearby will cause you to inhale or ingest the hazardous material. You should always wash before smoking, eating, or drinking if you have been working with hazardous materials. (now would be a good time to reference your substance abuse prevention program)
- Keep work clothes clean and in good condition. Holes or tears will allow hazardous materials to get on your clothes or skin, increasing the likelihood that you will be exposed to the substance.
- Do not mix contaminated clothing with your home laundry. Not only will cross-contamination occur, but it is possible to cause a fire if these clothes are laundered. Find out what to do with your contaminated clothing before you leave work. Many companies have an industrial laundry facility specifically for contaminated clothing.
- If you splash hazardous materials on your eyes, skin, or clothing, wash promptly in the proper manner, even if you have no apparent symptoms. The SDS (Safety Data Sheet) will provide information about what to do in case of splashes. Of course, the best time to look at the SDS is before you use the substance, not when an emergency happens. In the event of an injury, consult your E.M.S. or Medical Safety Program.
- Always wash before you apply makeup, lotion, lip balm, or gloves. Applying these to contaminated skin is likely to cause an accidental exposure.
- Remove contact lenses when working in an area where vapors are present. Contact lenses absorb substances from the air, causing eye irritation and other potentially serious conditions.
- Keep hazardous material storage areas clean. In case of a spill, the area should be cleaned according to proper spill control and clean-up procedures. Materials used to clean up the spill must also be disposed of properly.
These practices help keep hazardous materials away from and out of your body. Regular observation and execution of these simple work place hygiene practices are not only easy to do, but will quickly become a habit. Undoing the old, and probably bad hygiene habits is the most difficult part about adopting any new change. After all, no one usually notices a health effect right away if they eat or smoke in a hazardous materials area. Over time, because of chronic exposure to hazardous materials caused by these bad habits, a negative health effect may appear. If you are aware of any personal bad hygiene habits, the key to changing them is to remember that, in the long run, your good health is at risk because of the bad habit. Begin to change those bad habits today and follow your safety meetings meticulously!
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