Hazards of Chemicals and Gases
CORROSIVES (ACIDS AND ALKALIES)
Alkalies are much more injurious to the eyes than acids because strong acids tend to precipitate
a protein barrier, which prevents further penetration into the tissue. The alkalies do not do this.
They continue to soak into the tissue as long as they are allowed to remain in contact with the
eye. The end result of a corrosive burn to the eye (alkali or acid) is usually a scar on the cornea
and possible permanent damage.
Speed in removing corrosives is of primary importance. If the chemical enters the eyes, they
should be copiously irrigated with water for at least 15 minutes, and a physician should be
consulted immediately. In case of contact with skin or mucous membranes, the safety shower
should be used immediately. Clothing can be removed under the shower. Contaminated skin
areas should be washed with very large quantities of water for 1 to 2 hours, or until medical help
arrives. The ready availability of water, particularly safety showers and eye-washing baths,
greatly minimizes the possibility of severe, extensive damage. Contaminated clothing and shoes
should be thoroughly washed and decontaminated before re-use.
The use of personal protective equipment is not intended as a substitute for adequate control
measures, but because corrosives can cause extensive damage to the body this equipment must
be available as needed. During handling operations where spills or splashes are possible, whole
body protection (eyes, head, body, hands, and feet) may be necessary. All personal protective
equipment should be carefully cleaned and stored following use, and any equipment that cannot
be decontaminated should be discarded.
For the protection of the eyes, chemical safety goggles should be worn. Face shields should be
worn if complete face protection is necessary. Eyewash fountains and safety showers must be
available at any location where eye and/or skin contact may occur. Protection against mist or
dust can be provided by proper respiratory protective equipment. The wearing of protective
clothing is also advisable to avoid skin contact. This may consist of rubber gloves, aprons, shoes
or boots, and cotton coveralls which fit snugly. Safety shoes or boots made of rubber,
chlorobutadiene, or other chemical-resistant materials with built-in steel toecaps are
recommended for workers handling drums or in process areas where leakage may occur.
Containers should be stored in rooms with trapped floor drains. Curbs or a drained gutter,
covered with an appropriate grill, should be constructed at door openings where floor drains are
Tanks should be entered for cleaning or repairing only after these have been drained, flushed
thoroughly with water, ventilated, and sampled. Workers entering tanks should be monitored
by someone on the outside of the tank. A supplied-air respirator or self-contained breathing
apparatus, together with rescue harness and lifeline, should be on hand for rescue purposes.
Removal from exposure is the primary, and most important, step where exposure by inhalation
is involved. The individual should be made as warm and comfortable as possible, and a physician
should be called immediately.