Sanitizer Dangers in the Workplace

With sanitizers being part of the new normal here is what you need to know to keep you business, employees and customers safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the face of Health and Safety in the workplace. Many of the changes are clear to see, sanitization stations, social distancing, facemasks, gloves and more. COVID-19 is now the new reality and it will continue to lurk in our places of work for an extended period of time.

Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 puts the onus on the employer to provide a safe and risk-free workplace. The employer is also required to provide evidence of the practices, policies and procedures put in place to ensure a safe place of work.

Sanitizer and the storage of such poses a new risk that businesses need to take into account. Sanitizer containing alcohol is categorized as a Class 3 Flammable Liquid and The Controlling of Dangerous and Hazardous Goods Regulations as set out in The OHS Act are intended to promote the safe handling of these hazardous chemicals through the effective management of systems and processes.

Risks of Sanitizers

1. Fire

Most hand sanitizers contain a high volume of alcohol, which is the reason for hand sanitizer fire hazard concerns. Alcohol containing hand sanitizers have a flashpoint as low as 23°C which is the temperature of a liquid at which flammable vapour is given off in sufficient concentration to be ignited in air when exposed momentarily to a source of ignition.

In the event that hand sanitizer combusts, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can form. Personnel involved in extinguishing hand sanitizer fires should wear respiratory protection.

Specific storage and handling requirements should be in place to mitigate and address these risks.

2. Alcohol Poisoning

Improper use of hand sanitizers can lead to alcohol poisoning and associated complications.

Over-use and using large quantities at a time can contribute to possible ingestion by leaving sufficient amounts of residue on the hands.

Children can also accidentally ingest hand sanitizer and just a few small squirts will be equal to a number of alcohol units.

3. Health Risks

Hand sanitizer may contain several chemicals that can be harmful to your health with long term over use. Triclosan, a common sanitizer ingredient has been shown to antibiotic resistance which in turn can increase your risk of microbial infection. Additionally, chemicals found in sanitizer can contribute to hormone disruptions which could impact overall health in varying degrees.

Mitigate the Risk

In order to promote the well-being of your staff, ensure a safe workplace and protect your business it is important to put policies, procedures and protocols in place when it comes to the storage, handling and usage of hand sanitizer in the workplace.

Final Thoughts

The above example is just one of the many ways workplace health and safety has been impacted by COVID-19 and the additional requirements that have been placed on employers and business owners to fulfill their duty to provide a safe and risk-free workplace.

This can be stressful, especially in times where many businesses are fighting for survival.

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