Workplace Safety: A Guide To Hazardous Materials

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Workplace health and safety includes employees’ understanding of basic safety, workplace dangers, risks associated with hazards, mitigation of hazards, and implementation of necessary safe work procedures and a safety culture in the workplace.

What are hazardous materials and why are they dangerous in the workplace?

Materials that pose a risk to the environment or human health are classified as hazardous. Because these substances are hazardous, proper handling is required.

In the event of an accident, dangerous substances might result in significant damage. Chemical discharges into the air and water can also have long-term detrimental impacts on the environment or human health.

hazardous materials

How can you identify hazardous materials in your workplace and what should you do if you come into contact with them?

The main objective of identifying hazardous material is to locate and document any potential risks in your workplace. Working together as a health and safety team will be beneficial.

As an Occupational Health and Safety team you will do the following:

  • Gather information already available concerning dangers at work.
  • Check the workplace for risks to your health and safety.
  • Determine the risks to your health.
  • Describe the dangers connected to emergency circumstances.

Even after identifying all the possible hazardous material within your workplace, the risk of being exposed to it is definitely still a possibility.  You always need to keep yourself familiar with the processes put into place in regards to health and safety at your workplace.

So, what should you do when you come into contact with hazardous material?

  • Always keep your workspace and yourself tidy.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling any substance.
  • Work surfaces should be cleaned at least once per shift to reduce the possibility of contamination.
  • Contact your first aider immediately to assist you.

What are the health risks associated with exposure to hazardous materials?

Many health risks are posed by hazardous and chemical substances.  Asthma and other illnesses, like cancer, can be brought on by exposure to hazardous material.  Several materials can harm the skin, and others can seriously harm the lungs over time. Dizziness and stinging eyes are two examples of rapid effects, whereas lung illness develops over years.

Hazardous substances can be inhaled, directly contacted on the skin, or mistakenly ingested by people. Children are particularly vulnerable to these ways of exposure. Children often put all sorts of things into their mouths and have regular hand-to-mouth contact while engaging in daily activities.  Inhaling vapours, especially over a prolonged period of time will also have a negative impact on your health.

The food that people eat can expose them to dangerous toxins. If dangerous chemicals have come into touch with the food, food contamination may result. It can also happen lower on the food chain, like when eating contaminated fish.

The factors of exposure determine whether there will be negative health consequences. The following variables affect whether or not an exposure will have a negative impact on one’s health:

  • The type of chemical;
  • The amount to which the person has been exposed to;
  • The duration of the exposure;
  • How many times the person was exposed.


hazardous materials

What steps should be taken to safely dispose of hazardous materials?

Hazardous material can’t just be disposed of in any form or dumped on any site.  Certain hazardous materials need to be handled in specific manners and disposed of accordingly. 

What do you do when you have to dispose of hazardous materials?

Here are some steps you need to look at before taking any actions.

  • Identify: Identifying the sort of hazardous material that is present and creating a waste profile to classify the waste and decide how to safely handle it through disposal are the initial steps in the disposal of hazardous waste.
  • Quantify:  Determine the quantity of hazardous material you are dealing with
  • Notify:  Depending on the type of hazardous materials you may need to notify specific governing bodies of the disposal. 
  • Manage:  The best practice is to familiarize yourself with any legal requirements your business needs to comply with before making any final decisions.
  • Transport:  It’s important to have the correct service provider who specializes in the type of hazardous materials you need to dispose of to transport it for you.
  • Dispose:  Obtain a certificate of disposal from the service provider you’re using so you know that the hazardous material has been disposed of correctly.

How can employers create a safe working environment for their employees when it comes to hazardous materials?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 93, section 8 stipulates that every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees.

How do you do this?

  • Train your staff of the correct health and safety processes and procedures within your organization;
  • Provide them with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Conduct regular risk assessments of the workplace;
  • Install the required safety signs in the workplace.



Workplace health and safety isn’t optional, safety is good for business. It is all about sensibly managing any risks in order to protect your employees and business. Strong leadership is characterized by good health and safety management and involving all your employees, suppliers, contractors and customers.

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