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Join HSI Chief Safety Officer Jill James as she visits environmental health and safety professionals in their workplaces to explore important workplace safety topics. This video explains the importance of understanding chemical interactions, using Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to avoid negative chemical reactions, and how to protect yourself with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Hi, I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with HSI. I'm a former OSHA inspector, and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards. For this series, we're at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in the heart of the upper Midwest to show you no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.
While many of us know the importance of hazard communication training, how many of us are taking time to read through our SDSs, or Safety Data Sheets, to really study our hazardous substances and learn about chemical interactions and what employees need to know and what to avoid. For example, many of us understand the dangers of mixing chlorine and ammonia and the toxic vapor it creates, but what about other chemical interactions? What should we be teaching our employees and not assuming they may or may not know?
Today I'm with Brandy, Safety Director here at the Beet Sugar Cooperative. Brandy has developed an interesting method to teach her employees about chemical interactions using household products as a way to present information in a manner that everyone can relate.
So, Brandy, what prompted you to do this kind of training starting out with household chemicals?
Well, you know, quite honestly we wanna make sure that our employees know the value of the training we provide here in the workplace can be brought home. This is a perfect example of how that can happen. People know that chemicals are made to basically be fairly safe at home. Unfortunately, people sometimes make the interaction at home too, and it can cause serious injury. So starting out making sure that people realize the value of their training, so that they pay attention.
We've also had chemical interactions here at work. We give them examples that are more basic, and then we bring in our workplace chemicals and interactions that could happen here.
Yeah, right. So you start out with this kind of baseline knowledge of "What would it look like at home if we mixed this and this?" And then you brought it into the workplace. Talk about how did you make that transition? Where do you start with the workplace chemicals and talking about interactions? How did you approach that?
Well, what we do is we actually break our 350-person workforce up into about 20 to 25-people groups. Then when we break them down again into four or five people. In our hazard communication training, we allow our employees to really do a lot of touch, feel, and getting more engaged. At this station, we have about five people, and they are asked several questions about how to read the Safety Data Sheets, which is traditionally presented first, and then we break up into these hands-on teams.
By asking them to look through the different Safety Data Sheets for each of these, the next question might be like, "Which one should definitely not be mixed?" So they start getting the idea of how to use the Safety Data Sheets. The next station they go to is more of a workplace chemical instead of a household chemical. That's how we transition into bringing everyday life that they can bring home and teach their kids, their family, into our workplace type chemicals.
Was there some discoveries you made along the way with a particular chemical that you're using in this industry, and what you found out about interactions?
Well, we have pebble lime on our facility. If you were not aware of what that was, it could look as simple as some white rock or maybe crushed concrete. You wouldn't think there's a hazard there, but this stuff when you add water, something as simple as rainwater even, could create a chemical reaction, and does create a chemical reaction where the product heats up to over 200 degrees. So you're not only looking at a chemical burn, but you're also looking at a thermal burn. It causes some very severe injuries if that happens.
We also teach in this training, not everything that looks like rock or like something innocuous is, and that you need to know what you're working with. It builds that awareness that they really need to understand the process and all of the chemicals including those that you wouldn't expect a reaction from.
Right, and so when you're doing that training, you've kind of got them broken down into the smaller groups and they get to like say the pebble lime you were talking about. Are light bulbs going off, and they're going, "Oh, wow, I had no idea,"?
Oh, yeah, especially when you hand them the heat gun, and say, "Now you, you tell me what the heat level is in there." And they're going, "Oh my gosh, it's getting hotter and hotter, and there's fumes coming out of it." We've got people learning that this is real, and it's a real hazard.
Especially, you don't often go the gory side, but then you show pictures of what a pebble lime burn looks like, and then you remind them, "This is not just thermal." Because of the chemical, it's going after the moisture, and it's digging deep into your tissue. And definitely there's light bulbs going off when they see the ramifications of not reacting appropriately to that type of exposure.
Are you having them pay special attention to certain pieces of the SDS sheet as they're learning along the way?
Certainly, at least we always preach or teach on section eight and section four in that order. Eight, you've gotta know how to protect yourself before you ever use the chemical or come around it. That's about your PPE and your personal exposure. Then number four, God forbid you do have a reaction, and you're not wearing your PPE or it surpasses your PPE, then you know how to do your first aid and protect yourself as best you can there.
Our MO when we're doing our hazard communication training is, "Gotta know number eight. Gotta know number four." No doubt about it. Clearly, when we're talking interactions, there are additional sections in the Safety Data Sheet that help you out with that too.
When employees are learning about their personal protective equipment even in this training, I bet the interaction is rich. Are they bringing up things like, "Oh, I didn't know that could go through the bottom of my foot, and I've had this one hole in my rubber work boot," or things like that? Do those kind of conversations happen too?
Sometimes. We actually do combine our hazard communication training with our PPE training, so that people are donning and adopting the equipment, and we're showing them how it's going to protect. We make sure to exemplify, "You wear your boots inside your pant versus outside," in case something drops into it. It's an opportunity where we hit several different requirements, several different protective measures all in one experience.
If you were to give some advice to others who are listening about chemical interactions, and maybe an approach for training, and the importance of it, maybe where would somebody start?
Our experience has been attempting to get it to be hands-on and relevant. Making sure you're engaging your employees the best you can because you could have amazing shows of interaction, but if they're not interested, it doesn't do anything for you. We really try to focus on getting the groups down to a very small size so they're willing to engage and willing to take action.
The other thing about it is a lot of this stuff is really cool. You can find on video. Again, that video does not do it like an actual experiment right in front of them. We take-
Sure. It's the things that they actually work with day to day.
Absolutely, as long as you can do that safely in a classroom setting. Of course, as a safety professional doing the experiment you need to exemplify safety all the way around, and explain why it's safe to do it in this different environment than the workplace.
Yeah, that you're not just all of the sudden up like a mad scientist's workshop, and you're making sure that when you're doing the training that everyone is safe.
There's ventilation, and we have our PPE, and everybody stand up, yes. Parameters and expectations are set.
Who does this kind of training with your employees here when you break them down into small groups? Are you cross training supervisors to do it and get into it together?
Yes, actually, we have a team of about four people here. It's myself, my safety manager, and then I've got two Union employees that super the Safety Department. We broke out this time our training to be led by our Safety Department to add credibility and to help our employees understand that they can go to any one of us for support and technical knowledge.
We have done cross-trainings with supervisors where they have manned the station, whatever the topic may be, and that's really helpful too to build their credibility and their willingness to be approached on these topics.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), what a great tip. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us today, and what a great way you're doing training.
Remember, Safety Data Sheets are a great place to start, and especially remember to read sections seven and 10 to learn about interactions and reactions with other chemicals under certain conditions.
I hope you've gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this, go ahead and pass it on. Safety is everyone's business.