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Recognizing hazardous substances in the workplace

| Feb 1, 2021 | Workers' Compensation |

Consistent exposure and sometimes immediate exposure to hazardous material in the workplace can easily lead to a debilitating illness. To avoid issues, workers should make sure that they can identify the hazardous materials in their work environment. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains that workers may not be able to detect hazardous materials by using their senses, so they should rely on other clues. The government has a label system set up to make identification by site easy, but workers also should be aware of potential warning signs in situations where they may not have access to labels. 

Warning signs

Potential warning signs that a substance is toxic or harmful is a visible gas, unusual color flames, foul odors and odd sounds coming from containers. Workers should note that sometimes a hazardous substance may appear harmless with no smell or other clue it is dangerous. Workers should never touch or use substances unless they know exactly what they are. 

Warning labels

The EPA explains the hazardous materials labeling system uses colors and symbols to denote specific types of hazards. Some labels use two colors, while others only use one, so workers should pay close attention to the full label. The government system pairs the colors with symbols for each hazard. 

Flammable solids will have a flame symbol and red and white stripes for the color, while flammable gasses or liquids use the flame with a solid red color. On the other hand, gasses that are non-flammable use a cylinder symbol and the color is green. 

Explosives have a starburst symbol and use the color orange. Workers should note that explosives are the only label to use the color orange. 

There are three labels that use the color white. Corrosives have a black and white test tube label. Poisons have a skull and crossbones label in solid white, and radioactive substances have a propellor symbol in yellow and white. Also, using yellow but a solid color is oxidizers, which have a flaming ball symbol. 

Workers should memorize these labels so they are aware of them when they see them. 

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