Understanding Hazards – Chemical

Chemicals are considered a hazard due to their intrinsic properties to cause harm to humans, property or the environment.

Some chemicals occur naturally, for example arsenic or radon gas, while others are manufactured for commercial or home use.  Examples of these chemical hazards are paints, varnishes, bleaches and diesel fumes.

Chemical hazards can be presented by substances that are:


•  Used directly in work activities (for example, adhesives, paints, cleaning materials)

•  Generated during work activities (for example, fumes from soldering and welding).

The level of harm caused depends on the route and speed of entry into the body. Chemicals can harm a person’s health when entering the body by:

•  Absorbtion through the skin, including entry through cuts.

•  Ingestion through the mouth, which is considered a rare method of contracting a work-related disease.

•  Inhalation to the lungs, which is the most imoprtant route of entry because the lungs are very efficient in transferring substances into the body.

Once a chemical hazard has entered the body, examples of harmful effects are:

•  Diseases of the skin – for example, dermatitis

•  Diseases of the respiratory system – for example, asthma, pneumoconiosis, legionnaires’ disease

•  Cancer and birth defects – for example, lung cancer

•  Asphyxiation – for example, through carbon monoxide

•  Disorders of the central nervous system – for example, peripheral neuropathy

•  Damage to specific organs – for example, kidneys and liver

•  Blood poisoning – for example, anaemia or leukaemia.

Some substances may cause harm from a single exposure of short duration (acute effect), while some harm will only be apparent after prolonged and/or repeated exposure (chronic effect).

Chemical hazards are present when a person is exposed to a harmful chemical at home or at work.  Most people associate chemicals with certain professions and workplaces such as laboratories.  However, chemicals are found in many of the products we use at work and at home on a day-to-day basis.  While these chemicals have a variety of beneficial uses, they can also be extremely harmful if they are misused.