Regulatory Affairs Directorate
Market Surveillance Directorate

SAFETY TIPS FOR HANDLING CHEMICALS

Detergent, cleaning and maintenance products are used on a daily basis to maintain cleanliness, health and well-being around the home. Although developed by manufacturers to be safe for their intended use, a certain degree of precaution is always necessary. 

For the consumer the chemical label is an important source of information needed to ensure the safe use of the chemical. Household products are safe when used and stored according to the instructions on the label. By carefully reading and following the instructions provided, consumers can help protect themselves and the environment, while also getting optimal performance from the product. Labels also carry advice on what to do in case of accident or misuse.  For maximum protection, the label should be consulted before buying, using, storing or disposing of any hazardous products.

Most of the household products are not dangerous if used properly but some products need more careful handling than others. The degree of hazard varies from one product to another.  Some ingredients in detergent, cleaning and maintenance products can cause skin allergies and asthma; others can be corrosive and can cause skin burns and eye damage.  Frequent use and prolonged contact with chemical products may irritate the skin leading to dermatitis. 

Preventing exposure from these hazardous chemicals is of utmost important so as to minimize the risks involved while using these products.  The following safety tips can be useful to control the risk/s related to human and environmental health:

  • Less-toxic alternatives or non-toxic substitutes should be used wherever possible.  For e.g.: the sink can be unclogged by means of a plunger; baking soda or vinegar can be used for cleaning; etc.
  • Low-phosphate or phosphate-free laundry detergents and automatic dishwasher detergents should be used in order to reduce contamination of the aquatic environment by high levels of dissolved plant nutrients, such as phosphate ions, which leads to high algal growth.
  • Water-based products should be used whenever possible.

 

  • Toxic household chemicals should be stored in a safe place, in a locked cabinet, out of children’s reach. Powders, granules and dusts should be stored above liquids, as this eliminates the chance of liquid leaking onto soluble materials, resulting in possible reactions.
  • Chemical products should be stored away from heat or sparks.
  • Chemical products have information about safely using the product – it is important to read carefully and follow this advice.  Any hazards present are indicated by pictograms and statements while the relevant precautions, like wearing gloves or eye protection, are listed on the label.

 

  • Chemical products should be left in their original container with the label that clearly identifies the contents. They should never be placed in food or beverage containers.
  • The right amount of product should be used. Twice as much doesn't mean twice the results.  The recommended use on the label should be followed.
  • Household chemicals should be carefully sealed if they are not being used.
  • Products should be used in well-ventilated areas to avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Eating, drinking or smoking should be avoided while using hazardous products.  Traces of hazardous chemicals can be carried from hand to mouth. Smoking can start a fire if the products are flammable.
  • Personal protective equipment, like protective gloves, aprons and eye protection, should be used. Protective goggles are used to protect eyes when products that cause burns, including acids and caustics, are used.  Protective gloves are useful to avoid direct contact with chemicals.
  • Different products should not be mixed with each other unless the label directs the user to do so. This can cause hazardous chemical reactions. Even different brands of the same product may contain incompatible ingredients.

 

  • Special care should be taken when using caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). This can erupt when mixed with water. Splashes in the eye can cause blindness.
  • Concentrates that contain bleach (sodium hypochlorite solution) should never be mixed with any other chemical. These can react and a dangerous gas (chlorine) is released.

 

  • Pregnant women should avoid toxic chemical exposure as much as possible.   Some products are classified as toxic for reproduction; this hazard warning is intended for pregnant women, and for men and women of reproductive capacity.

 

  • Prior to purchasing pesticides, the product should be checked whether it is effective in controlling the individual pest, disease or weed to be treated.
  • Where a pest problem has not been identified pesticides should not be sprayed indiscriminately (both indoors and outdoors).
  • The use of pesticides can be reduced by: getting rid of the food or water that attracts pests; frequently clean places where pests breed and hide; use traps instead of pesticides; pull weeds, etc.
  • After handling any chemicals, such as pesticides, hands should be washed.  Clothes should be removed right after pesticides are applied and they should be washed in hot, soapy water, apart from other clothes.

 

  • Children and pets should not be around when pesticides are used.  They should be kept away until the pesticide or chemical has dried or as long as is recommended on the label.
  • Insect repellents should be carefully used on children.  This type of product should not be applied: over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin; and to eyes, mouth, hands, or directly on the face.   
  • Unless stated on the label empty pesticide containers should be disposed of in one of the civic amenity sites

 

  • When taking chemical products to a civic amenity site for disposal, the containers should be carefully sealed and clearly labelled with the name and active ingredient of the product.