EHS Fundamentals

10 examples of hazardous materials & tips for handling them

Different regions have different views on what’s considered dangerous. But these examples of hazardous materials should be on everyone’s risk list.

Diletta Manago

by Diletta Managò

Examples of hazardous materials differ in their definition (and their regulation) from country to country. But these 10 are key to control no matter where you operate. Regardless of the regulations in your locations, across all businesses, the responsibility stays the same: keeping workers and communities safe.  As you line up new facilities or implement new materials in your operations, use this list of the most common hazardous substances to handle with care in your business.

Examples of hazardous materials: The 10 to watch (and what to do about them).

As you build protocols to protect employees, make sure you account for these most encountered examples of hazardous materials – and their dangerous effects.

1. Argon

The odorless and non-flammable gas Argon is most often used in welding, production of electric appliances, and metals refining. When in contact with the skin, this gas can cause significant tissue damage. And at high levels it can act as an asphyxiant (i.e., decreasing the oxygen level in air). To avoid sudden releases, Argon must be transported in upright cylinders as well as stored and used in areas with adequate ventilation.

2. Cadmium

Companies mainly use this soft and malleable metal in the production of batteries, alloys, coatings, solar cells, plastic stabilizers, and pigments. Exposure to Cadmium and its compounds is associated with cancer. And it can dangerously affect cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems (to name a few). The most effective way to prevent this metal’s harmful effects is through elimination or substitution from your processes/operations. If doing so isn’t a valid option, you’ll need to implement numerous forms of control, such as source isolation, exposure minimization, and the use of personal protective equipment.

3. Carbon dioxide (CO2)

One of the most well-known examples of hazardous materials on this list, CO2, is a naturally occurring gas. It’s largely used in many industrial applications, for instance as a cleaning agent, coolant, propellant, and lubricant. High concentrations of CO2 in the air can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, and even suffocation. As such, confined spaces escalate this risk. To prevent occupational accidents, ensure that the use and storage of CO2 in your facilities occurs only outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.

4. Chlorine

This naturally occurring hazardous chemical element exists as both liquid and gas. Outside of your favorite neighborhood pool, Chlorine is used to manufacture many everyday industrial products – from pesticides and plastic to most pharmaceuticals. Although non-flammable, this element is highly reactive and volatile, particularly when combined with heat. Chlorine gas is strongly corrosive and irritant to the respiratory system, eyes, skin, and mucous membranes – and even poisonous when in high concentrations. To be stored and transported safely, make sure to first pressurize and cool Chlorine so that it changes into liquid.

5. Ethylene oxide

A toxic gas, ethylene oxide is also used to manufacture many common industrial products, including fabric, detergents, medicines, adhesives as well as raw material for Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins. Yet unlike Chlorine, this example of hazardous material is flammable. Repeated exposure to it has contributed to the development of cancer as well as to damaging genetic, nerve, and reproductive effects. Employees’ exposure to it must not exceed the exposure limits. Make sure to comply with the applicable health and safety regulations.

6. Gasoline

Not necessarily a surprise to anyone reading this, gasoline is an example of hazardous materials found all around the globe. This highly flammable liquid is well-known for its uses in automotive fuel and solvent. Typical gasoline contains several different chemicals, such as benzene, toluene, and xylene. In addition to its high explosive potential in the air, this liquid can cause serious health hazards when inhaled and or in contact with skin. Always store gasoline in approved containers and never handle it near any source of ignition.

7. Lead

Due to its wide use, exposure to lead is one of the first known occupational hazards. This toxic heavy metal is used in several industries, such as for producing batteries, glass, and ammunition. If inhaled or swallowed, lead can cause many health issues, such as severe kidney and brain damage as well as cancer. To ensure worker safety, the first step is to respect the applicable workplace exposure limits in your operating jurisdictions. Then step up your protection by training employees on its use and providing them with personal protective equipment.

8. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases, such as propane and butane, commonly used as a fuel in appliances and vehicles as well as a refrigerant. This gas mixture catches fire very easily. Its release can cause cold burns when in contact with the skin, and, like argon, can act as an asphyxiant in high concentrations. For these reasons, it’s critical that your facilities store it in suitable pressurized vessels, which must be kept distant from any source of ignition.

9. Propylene

As an extremely flammable gas, Propylene is largely used in the petrochemical, packaging, and plastics industries. This gas is another example of a hazardous material that displaces air, leading to explosions or suffocation. To avoid accidental releases, ensure that you store it in appropriate cylinders or containers in an upright position and keep it away from any ignition sources, sparks, heat, or flames.

10. Sulfuric acid

This liquid is one of the most prominent compounds in the chemical industry. We see it most used in the production of paints, dyes, fertilizers, and batteries as well as metal processing and as the electrolyte in lead-acid storage batteries. Sulfuric acid is extremely corrosive, and handling it requires appropriate protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles, boots, and respirators.

Expand on these examples of hazardous materials with your own risk list.

Every day, companies all around the world must ensure the safe use, handling, and storage of hazardous substances. Properly identifying risk in each facility is the first step. But note that the end of our list isn’t the end of the line. Start with these examples of hazardous materials and then dive deeper to pinpoint other potentially dangerous goods in your facilities. One key is to keep it classy … meaning knowing the classes and categories of accurate hazardous materials classification  in your jurisdictions. Once you have a handle on what’s dangerous, you’ll have a better handle on how to  across your entire business.

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