This chapter deals with common types of chemical hazards. Your work area may or may not contain all of these hazard types. Your supervisor will train you on the hazards that are present in your particular work area.
Common types of hazardous materials
Three of the most common types of hazardous materials are organic solvents, corrosives, and compressed gases. Each has typical uses and possible health effects. Please note that adverse health effects can result from our improperly handling a chemical, or because we did not use appropriate protective equipment.
Organic solvents, found in almost all workplaces, are the most common industrial chemicals. At the college we find organic solvents in paints, paint thinners, lacquers, adhesives, floor polishes, and correction fluids. We use many organic solvents are used in laboratories.
Because we often use organic solvents to dissolve oils and greases, we should be aware that repeated skin exposure can cause dry skin. The solvent removes the protective oils from the skin, resulting in redness, itching, and pain. If we breathe in the vapors of organic solvents, we may experience dizziness, headache, drowsiness, and nausea. The vapors can also cause irritation of the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Overexposure for a prolonged period can damage our liver, kidneys, nervous system, and other organs.
Most organic solvents are flammable. Some can explode or react with other materials to form other hazardous materials.
Corrosives, another common chemical type in the workplace, include acids and bases or caustics. They may be either solid or liquid. For example, many soaps and cleaners are corrosive. We can also find corrosive materials in the laboratory.
These materials can cause severe harm to body tissue. They can cause skin irritation and eye damage. Exposure to vapors can affect the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Ingestion can severely damage the throat and stomach and may even be fatal.
Most corrosive materials are not flammable. However, they can react with each other and with other materials to produce fire and explosion.
Reed College has compressed gases in a variety of workplaces, including laboratories, the sports center, the health center, the nuclear reactor, the physical plant operation, and the art department. Many of these gases are flammable, corrosive, or toxic. There is also danger of a powerful propellant effect if the pressurized gas within the cylinder should suddenly escape. If the cylinder bursts or the valve is damaged, the sudden release of gas can turn the cylinder into a missile with enough force to penetrate a concrete wall.