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NSW: Safety warning over caustic chemical skin burns

Monday, 16 January, 2017 - 11:00
Media release


SafeWork NSW recently issued a safety alert highlighting the risk of severe skin burns that can be caused by caustic chemicals used in restaurants and cafés.

The regulator recently investigated two similar incidents where workers suffered severe chemical burns to their feet whilst cleaning up spills in restaurant and hotel kitchens.

Highly caustic chemicals are used in automatic dishwashing machine detergents, oven and grill top cleaners, as well as some grease cleaners.

In both investigated incidents, the workers were unaware they were cleaning up a caustic liquid and were wearing casual soft soled shoes.

The chemical was absorbed into their footwear and socks and it was not until the workers removed their footwear that they become aware of their burn injuries.

Severe burns can be relatively painless due to the damage they cause to the sensory nerves in the skin.

This could explain why the workers were not aware of their injuries earlier, according to SafeWork NSW.

There are several contributing factors to incidents of burns from caustic chemicals including:

  • Failure to conduct a basic risk assessment to identify hazards associated with chemicals used in kitchens
  • Poorly maintained hazardous chemical register
  • Safety data sheets have not been sourced and/or supplied to workers to keep them informed about hazards and the relevant precautions
  • Inadequate information and training for workers about chemical hazards and how to manage spillage incidents
  • Unsuitable footwear or personal protective equipment being worn by workers for the type of work environment
  • Poor or non-existent spill containment for caustic chemicals
  • Absence of spill management and reporting procedures
  • Lack of injury reporting procedures.

 The alert made a number of recommendations:

  • Develop a hazardous chemical register.
  • Conduct a risk assessment of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. If possible eliminate these hazardous chemicals or substitute for less hazardous chemicals.
  • Ensure SDS’s are readily available to workers and provide instruction, training and supervision to workers on the safe use, storage and handling of hazardous chemicals.
  • Read and follow all instructions on chemical labels.
  • Ensure appropriate control measures, such as dispensary devices and spill trays, are in place for hazardous chemicals at work.
  • Provide and ensure appropriate PPE, including gloves and chemical resistant footwear, is used for routine daily work. This is especially important to protect workers from potential spills or chemical exposure.
  • Educate workers on spill management procedures, including wearing suitable gloves and chemical resistant footwear when cleaning up spills.
  • Prepare and implement spill, injury and incident reporting and notification procedures.