Human Resources

Chemical hazards

The University uses chemicals for a number of purposes including:

  • Research

  • Teaching

  • Cleaning

  • Landscaping/gardening

  • Maintenance

The use of chemicals can be hazardous to both safety and to the health of those exposed to them.  The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) require employers to take necessary steps to protect their employees from the harmful effects of hazardous substances.  Any substances generated as a result of a work activity under the employer's control should be assessed for risk prior to the activity taking place using information from the safety data sheets.  This includes laboratory work, research, manufacture, teaching, maintenance.  Risk assessments should take the chemicals inherent properties into account to enable adequate control measures to be implemented:

  • Flammability

  • Corrosivity

  • Reactivity

  • Toxicity

For safety reasons - the use or generation of any chemical agents must be carried out under controlled conditions to reduce the risk of unwanted reactions which may lead to fire and explosion.

Health Effects

The University is required under Health & Safety legislation to prevent, or adequately control, exposure to substances hazardous to health with the aim of preventing ill-health. 

Chemicals can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption, (they may also irritate or be corrosive to the skin and eyes).  Chronic disease is developed after long term exposure whereas acute disease occurs after a single exposure.  Both can be serious.
Long term exposure can therefore lead to diseases of the respiratory, skin and nervous system.

  • Diseases of the respiratory system - the lungs provide a target for harmful airborne agents which may cause inflammation or the death of cells as is the case with Asbestosis.  These agents can include dust, gas, fumes, fluids.  Inflammation caused by severe irritants (Chlorine, Ammonia) can also cause oedema.

  • Diseases of the skin - chemical sensitisers and irritants can cause skin disease including Occupational Irritant Dermatitis.  Cuts and abrasions of the skin are often minor and heal quickly but can lead to secondary infection if exposed to irritants, which can lead to more serious illness.

  • Diseases of the nervous system - exposure to some chemicals (e.g. Lead) can affect normal function of the nervous system.  Control measures must therefore be implemented to prevent these chemicals from entering the body.    

Some chemical substances such as cyanides and Hydrofluoric acid pose a high risk to body tissue and must therefore be treated with extreme care.  Ensure that any work involvgin these chemicals does not take place out of normal working hours or as a lone worker when the availability of supporting personnel such as first aiders is limited.  Hydrofluoric acid is corrosive and can cause severe burns to the skin and eyes.  It is also highly irritating to the respiratory system and very toxic if swallowed.  Always wear at least one pair of gloves, a lab coat and safety glasses when using this acid and have a tube of "HF Antidote Gel" or Calcium Gluconate available close by.   Before beginning any work with these substances please inform an appropriately trained First Aider of your intentions.

Many common solvents are toxic which mean they need to be handled carefully in a fume cupboard whenever possible. If solvent is spilt, it should be cleaned up using absorbent granules and when using large amounts of acid or any amount of strongly smelling material, ensure that a neutralising agent is close to hand.

Mercury is very toxic which means all glass apparatus containing mercury MUST have secondary containment to catch it in the event of a breakage. Spilt mercury should be collected up immediately and the vapour level in the laboratory checked.   Details on how to clean up a mercury spill can be obtained from the Hazardous Waste Manager.