|The structure of a visit to the chemical industry:
There are different ways of tackling a visit:
Some hazards to look out for, and corresponding risks to assess:
by geography - analogous to the way in which you would visit a house
that you are intending to buy; by being shown round systematically (perhaps
with emphasis on the nicer parts of the house, and ignoring skeletons in
by process. Starting with the feed tock and all the way through
the various chemical reactions, handling and interventions right through
to the packing and dispatch of the final product - but remember that many
processes may take place in parallel or at different times. Conducting
a visit by process can be very educational but on its own would not necessarily
result in a complete assessment.
by theme. The visit could focus on a particular theme eg solvent
exposure, noise exposure etc
Different categories of chemicals. It is not possible to address
all the possible categories of course but some examples will be given:
Organic solvents are used very extensively to extract and purify other
chemicals from natural or manmade sources, as a vehicle within which to
carry out reactions, as the reagents in themselves, and as a vehicle or
active constituent of many final products. In high enough airborne concentrations
most can cause nausea, headache, loss of consciousness and even death.
Skin exposure can cause dermatitis through degreasing at least. Many of
them are highly inflammable. Some of them have important neurotoxic, carcinogenic
or other properties.
Enquire about total turnover of these chemicals in terms of tonnage,
look for possible situations in which vapour may be generated in significant
amounts, enquire about the airborne concentrations of vapour, determine
who may be exposed, when and under what circumstances. Enquire about how
the agents are handled and try and make your own observations.
Other agents. A categorisation of these would be practically endless and
it would be surprising to go to a chemical workplace which only had agents
in the above mentioned categories.
Enquire about the specific feedstock and output from the plant, and
then explore all the steps in between. When you have (if you have) fathomed
the complexity of this in production, then consider how much more varied
the exposures would be in any research and development and quality control
The attitude and practice of the firm towards risk assessment
What about non-chemical hazards? Heat, noise, etc. Do not forget these
and the very important and ubiquitous issues of manual handling. Remember
to address the methods of assessing risks from these hazards.
This is a very crucial part of health and safety management which
your visit to the workplace must explore:
Control of risks/risk reduction steps
Try and determine the attitudes of your host/manager/employee to the management
of health and safety.
Who are the key people responsible for conducting assessments of risk to
What policies exist?
How do they conduct the risk assessments?
What equipment and facilities do they have?
How do they use them?
View some of the assessments available, or at least a selection of the
observations and the results from which the assessments are made.
Consider the relative merit of some devices such as Drager tubes as compared
to personal monitoring devices.
Remember the hierarchy of control of risks.
Is this practised in the workplace?
What steps have been taken to eliminate or substitute hazardous substances?
What steps have been taken to contain, or segregate exposure?
What steps have been taken to use local exhaust ventilation where relevant?
How effective is it? How well is it monitored?
To what degree have workers been consulted, informed and trained in the
relevant aspects of health and safety?
What about personal protection? Is this overused in circumstances where
more appropriate forms of control should have been applied? Is this under
used? Is the correct protection being used for the task in hand and hence
for the relevant risks to health? How well is the personal protective equipment
A visit to a chemical industry may be an exercise on its own or it may
be a prelude to other forms of learning in the same workplace or elsewhere.
In any case, leaving the factory gate is not the end of the information
gathering and learning experience - merely the beginning.