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If you work in a profession that requires you to interact with or be around chemicals, you understand the dangers of handling these hazardous substances. All chemicals have different properties that influence how they react when contacting other materials. They can be toxic, flammable, corrosive, explosive, oxidizing or anything in between. With so many potential adverse reactions, it’s important you know how to handle any accidental exposures.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 41 chemical-related deaths occur in the workplace every year, with even more chemical-induced injuries. Even the most cautious workers can experience accidents and mishaps on the job. The key to safely overcoming these incidents is knowing what types of chemical hazards can take place and the proper responses to each of them through first aid for chemical exposure.

4 Types of Chemical Exposure

Chemicals do not cause health problems until they contact or enter the body. The various ways an individual can come into contact with chemicals are called exposure pathways. Being aware of these different routes is the first step toward knowing how to properly avoid chemicals and prevent them from infiltrating the body.

There are four primary ways you can become exposed to chemicals:

  • Inhalation: Inhalation occurs when a person breathes airborne chemicals into the lungs in the form of a gas, dust or mist.
  • Digestion: When an individual has been exposed to chemicals through digestion, they have swallowed the substance by mouth. Digestion can occur when a chemical spills or settles into food, drinks, cigarettes or even someone’s hands or facial hair.
  • Touch: Perhaps most self-explanatory, touch is when a person comes into direct contact with a chemical through the skin. Touching chemicals can result in skin damage or absorption into the bloodstream.
  • Eye contact: Similar to touch, this type of exposure occurs when an individual gets chemicals into their eyes. Your eye membrane absorbs chemicals faster than any other part of the body, which is why it’s critical to get the proper assistance immediately.

Each of these occurrences requires unique support and treatment depending on various risk factors, including:

  • Chemical toxicity
  • Route of exposure
  • Chemical dosage
  • Duration of exposure
  • Chemical reaction
  • Physical characteristics

Common First Aid Procedures for Chemical Exposure

If you or a co-worker comes into contact with a hazardous chemical, it’s vital to respond with the proper first aid procedures. Every chemical and exposure pathway is different and requires different responses to prevent damage from occurring.

1. What Do I Do if I’ve Been Exposed to Chemicals?

No matter how you’ve been exposed to a hazardous substance, the first thing you should do is stop the source by immediately removing yourself or the subject from contact with the spill, fumes or airborne particles. By separating the exposed individual from the source, you ensure they cannot endure further complications. If you’re assisting someone else with a chemical hazard, be sure to use the proper protective gear to protect yourself from exposure.

Next, be sure to remove all clothing or accessories that have come into contact with the chemical. If any of these articles remain on the body, they’ll cause the chemical injuries to worsen.

2. What Is the Correct Response if You Ingest Chemicals?

There are specific first aid methods for chemical inhalation. If an individual breathes toxic chemicals, you should first get them out of the area and into an environment with fresh air. In this case, you can either move to a different room or leave the building altogether. Then, remove any tight or restricting clothing to allow the individual to breathe more easily.

If the person begins to experience respiratory failure, try administering rescue breaths by following these instructions:

  • Tilt the head back to open the airway.
  • Close the nose using two fingers.
  • Take a deep breath and blow air through the individual’s mouth.
  • Wait for the person to exhale.
  • Monitor the rise and fall of the chest.
  • Repeat the procedure until the exposed individual breathes normally.

3. What Is the Procedure for Treating Eyes That Have Been Exposed to Chemicals?

chemicals through the eyes, it's crucial to immediately flush the eyes with cool water.

When someone comes into contact with chemicals through the eyes, it’s crucial to immediately flush the eyes with cool water. To avoid transferring chemicals into the unaffected eye, position the head so the exposed eye tilts downward.

How long you should flush the afflicted area depends on the chemical’s properties:

  • Nonirritants or mild irritants: Five minutes
  • Moderate-to-severe irritants: 15-20 minutes
  • Chemicals with acute toxicity: 15-20 minutes
  • Corrosive chemicals: 30 minutes
  • Strong alkalis: 60 minutes

Adhere to the following eyewash station instructions when using an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-compliant eyewash unit:

  • Go to the eyewash station immediately: It should be located within a 10-second walking distance from the hazard.
  • Activate the unit: Pull the lever with a single motion. The dust covers will pop open, revealing two eyewash nozzles that will discharge the flushing fluid.
  • Begin flushing: Move your eyes into the fluid stream.
  • Use your fingers to hold your eyes open: The hands-free eyewash unit will allow you to push your eyelids open for flushing. If you’re wearing contacts, remove the lenses.
  • Roll your eyes: Roll your eyes up and down and from left to right to ensure the fluid reaches all parts of the eye.
  • Flush for at least 15 minutes: Continue flushing for 15 minutes minimum to prevent the risk of permanent injury.

4. What Do You Do if Chemicals Come in Contact With the Skin?

If a chemical touches the skin, remove all affected clothing items and flush the skin with cool water for at least 15 minutes. The water stream should be gentle enough that it doesn’t cause further pain or break any blisters.

For water-activated chemicals like sodium, potassium and aluminum alkyls, brush the substance from the skin instead of using water. Make sure to wear gloves to prevent the chemical from transferring to the hands.

When to Seek Help From Medical Professionals

Though performing first aid for chemical exposures is both effective and necessary, there are some cases where it won’t be enough to remedy the situation completely. Sometimes, chemicals cause serious internal damage that cannot be corrected with eyewash stations or CPR alone. When hazardous substances are absorbed into the bloodstream, they can result in kidney or liver failure. In these cases, seeking medical assistance is critical.

Call your health care provider if any of the following has occurred:

  • A chemical came into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • The container label indicates that the chemical is corrosive.
  • The Material Safety Data Sheet denotes the chemical is hazardous or likely to cause damage.

If you or a co-worker experiences any of the following symptoms after being exposed to chemicals, call 911 immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Signs of shock
  • Large burns
  • Unconsciousness or fainting
  • Seizures or convulsions

Get Chemical Hazard Training With Hazmat School Today

Get Chemical Hazard Training With Hazmat School Today

You can expertly respond to chemical hazards with intensive first aid training from Hazmat School. We’ve spent over 30 years providing individuals online safety training, educating over 20,000 students each year. All of our courses are compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements, helping companies and employees become regulation-compliant.

Contact us to learn more about our online training solutions today!

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