What is a chemical hygiene plan?

Laboratories are required to have a chemical hygiene plan which provides for the protection and care of lab workers.

For people who work inside a New York laboratory, there are several kinds of health risks that they face. One of these is the exposure to harmful chemicals which could lead to a serious illness. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration states that laboratories may contain corrosives, neurotoxins, sensitizers, irritants, toxins and nephrotoxins.

Federal law requires employers to have a chemical hygiene plan which provides clear information on how employees will be protected from these chemicals. Employees who work in a laboratory should make sure that their employer has such a plan in place and understand what that plan includes.

Inside the lab

Some chemicals may give off fumes which can be harmful. OSHA states that the hygiene plan should include procedures for equipment care. For example, if a lab contains fume hoods, the plan should establish that the hoods should be regularly maintained and checked to make sure they are working correctly. There should also be a rule that workers will be required to wear the correct protective clothing when using the chemicals, such as eye goggles, face masks and aprons.

The chemicals themselves should be clearly marked with an easy-to-read label that provides warning about prolonged exposure and how the chemicals should be used. Employers should also make sure that a list of symptoms associated with over-exposure is placed in the lab where workers can see it. Designated areas should be set up in the lab where the most dangerous chemicals can be handled with care, along with a directive and established procedure on how contaminated waste should be removed.

Medical treatment

Another component of the hygiene plan should concentrate on the medical care and treatment provided to employees who may have been exposed to a harmful substance. It should establish the timeframe in which the employee must be seen by a physician and tested for poisoning. It should also require automatic testing for any employees where it is determined that the exposure exceeded the allowed amount.

In addition to immediate care, the plan should also spell out a process for follow-up exams and testing. It should be made clear to employees that their pay will not be affected as a result of the exposure.

Employee training

Educating employees is a vital step to preventing exposure and as part of the training process, employers should establish meetings where workers are introduced to the contents of the hygiene plan as well as the procedures that should be used every time they handle dangerous chemicals. Employees should be taught how to recognize if a chemical substance has leaked into the lab environment and who to report the leak to.

When laboratories ignore the safety of their workers, workers could find themselves struggling with a work-related illness. In such cases, they may find it helpful to speak with a workers' compensation attorney.