Busting the myths of chemical safety in the workplace
13th July 2016 | Busting chemical safety myths
There are a number of dangerous myths about chemical safety in the workplace. Unfortunately, like many myths, these beliefs are common and ingrained in many organisations. Busting some of these myths is an important step towards safer and healthier workplaces.
Myth 1: If it’s familiar, it’s safe
When things have been done a certain way for a certain length of time, a normalisation process occurs. Chemical products and processes become familiar. If “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, or so common wisdom instructs. This is particularly true for chemicals which have been used consistently within an organisation, or an industry, for many years. Familiarity breeds acceptance, comfort and trust.
Unfortunately, when it comes to industrial chemicals, familiarity and prevalence don’t amount to safety. Many chemicals once commonly found in workplaces are now banned or highly controlled. As we learn more about chemicals and their effects on the human body and brain, and on our environment, alternative safer substitutions are sought. However, this process takes time to fight against the inertia of familiarity. And unfortunately this leads to continuing workplace accidents and illnesses.
Here is one example of a common industrial solvent, Acetone, which is still commonly used for surface cleaning prior to welding. This chemical is both flammable and explosive. It has been the cause of severe workplace accidents including multiple deaths. However, it is still widely used and assumed to be safe in the industry: Acetone use for welding surface preparation
Myth 2: If it looks safe, it must be safe
People are busy. When we see a product in green packaging with leaves or flowers, or when we see reassuring words like “biodegradable” and “eco”, we feel like we are making an informed and responsible purchasing decision. These visual cues are extremely powerful, and marketers know this.
Unfortunately, appearances can be deceiving. “Greenwashing” is a term used to describe the deceptive practices used to dress up a chemical product to appear safe and sustainable for people and the planet.
This article outlines some of the common tricks employed to create a feeling of positivity and safety for products which are not at all positive or safe: Genuine Green cleaning being abused by greenwashing
Myth 3: Safer = more expensive
This myth stems for the belief that better must mean more expensive. That newer, smarter solutions must necessarily cost more. In fact, when it comes to industrial chemicals, the opposite is often true.
Advancements in chemical technologies have produced excellent substitutes for many hazardous and harmful workplace products. These products work as well as, or better than, the traditional chemicals they replace. They can also help organisations save money by:
- Reducing inventory requirements
- Decreasing PPE, ventilation and other risk management strategies
- Cutting waste disposal costs
- Simplifying transportation, storage and usage procedures
- Reducing worker sick days
- Avoiding expensive fines and penalties
Find out how safer chemicals can create healthier profits here: How can safer chemicals create healthier profits
Myth 4: Safety is someone else’s job
A flawed workplace safety culture leads to accidents. Safety issues arise from a wide range of faulty thinking within an organisation including:
- Normalisation of risk (this is the way we do things around here)
- Viewing near misses as successes rather than near-failures
- A premium placed on maintaining operational efficiencies over safety
- Conflicting safety messages to employees (saying one thing but doing another)
- Resistance to new information and change
Changing ingrained beliefs and patterns of behavior within an organisation takes time, commitment and support from all levels. Every single person in an organisation must take responsibility for their personal safety and the safety of others. Chemical safety in the workplace is everyone’s job.
Here is a collection of articles to help identify, assess and manage chemical risks in the workplace: Chemical Workplace Safety
Myth 5: Chemical risk is a necessary reality
The thinking here goes that, yes, some chemicals are dangerous or harmful. However, in business, you have to take risks in order to realise your rewards. That dangerous chemicals are an unfortunate but inevitable part of the workplace.
The truth is, in some cases, this belief holds up. Sometimes a dangerous or harmful product is the only option, and the focus then turns to how to reduce, mitigate and manage the risks associated with the chemical. However, in many cases, for many industrial chemicals, a safer alternative is available. New generation technology replaces the toxic and dangerous substances used in many industries.
To find out about safer chemical substitutes, explore Envirofluid’s full range of Worksafe and Environmental Chemistries here: Full range of Worksafe and Environmental Chemistries