Protecting workers against the threat of chemical hazards in manufacturing environments
31st October 2023

With an annual output of £183 billion, the manufacturing sector provides 2.5 million jobs in the United Kingdom (1). Comprising Food and Drink, Transport, Machinery, and a host of other industries, the UK manufacturing sector is on track for continued growth, so protecting these workers is essential.

As well as being an extremely diverse sector, it is also one of the most hazardous.

According to the Health and Safety Executive every year, in the manufacturing sector nearly 4% of workers suffer from ill health caused or made worse by work. (2) Among the main injury hazards in the manufacturing sector, is exposure to hazardous substances.

A range of chemical solutions – from pesticides and organophosphates to antibacterial cleaning solutions and industrial disinfectants – are used across the manufacturing chain daily. Many chemicals used to counter the threat of contamination by micro-organisms are classified as hazardous and pose potentially serious health risks for those people working with them.

In industrial and manufacturing settings many of the chemical solutions used can affect the skin, eyes or respiratory system and can be extremely harmful if ingested or direct skin contact is experienced in sufficient quantity.

Where’s the harm in that?

Exposure to these chemicals can result in immediate injuries – such as burns and respiratory damage. They can also be the cause of cumulative injuries where the damage of unprotected exposure can build over time until a tipping point is reached where continual exposure becomes too much for the body to protect against naturally and permanent injury or disease results (such as dermatitis).

According to the HSE, there are 13,000 deaths each year in the UK estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, primarily to chemicals or dusts (3).

The manufacturing sector can be broadly classified into two categories, consumer manufacturing and business-to-business. In both categories, dangerous chemicals are frequently used that can cause poisoning, allergic reactions, or chronic diseases.

The most common dangerous chemicals include (4):

  • Chromium – commonly used in the metallurgical industry. Chromium is toxic to humans, especially when microparticles are inhaled. Its chemical compounds can irritate the lungs and cause severe dermatitis and skin ulcers.
  • Zinc – a component of dry cell batteries. Although zinc is a micronutrient for humans, it can be toxic. The industrial use of zinc can be detrimental to health, specifically zinc chloride fumes.
  • Ammonia – used to manufacture fertilisers. Highly concentrated ammonia gas is vert toxic and inhaling it can immediately cause chemical burns.
  • Benzene – commonly used in the chemical manufacturing industry for the manufacture of plastics, rubbers, medicines, and pesticides. Classed as a carcinogenic substance, it can prevent bone marrow from producing red blood cells if inhaled.
  • Mercury –a toxic heavy metal commonly used in mining. It is highly corrosive and can cause a host of neurological problems.

Personal Protective Equipment

It is vital that the right level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided including chemical protective clothing, chemical resistant gloves, safety footwear and where there is an inhalation threat, respiratory protection.

What level of PPE is required will be determined by the hazardous substances being used, how they are used, what exposure is likely to take place and how workers will interact with them. It is likely that a combination of PPE solutions may well be required.

How important is chemical clothing when working with chemicals?

Whenever anyone is working with chemicals there is a danger that basic waterproof barriers will not provide the right levels of protection against the chemicals being used and leave the worker exposed to danger and the threat of injury.

Contact with chemicals can cause immediate and severe injuries such as burns, breathing problems and respiratory damage, but they can also attack clothing surfaces in other ways, including:

  • Degradation: When a chemical encounters a material, it can break down the integrity and weaken its properties causing leakage and weakness.
  • Penetration: The flow of chemicals and micro-organisms through porous material, seams, small holes, or other small defects in materials caused by degradation. Where workers are exposed to chemicals it is important to ensure that clothing can prevent penetration through design and manufacturing features.
  • Permeation: The process where a chemical passes through a material on a molecular level because the chemical’s molecules can penetrate through the outer material and into the inside of the material.

Controlling the Risk

COSHH Assessment - According to the HSE, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) requires employers to prevent or control exposure to hazardous substances. Where exposure cannot be prevented, employers are required to assess the risk to health, and provide adequate control measures. (5)

This assessment should include a list of all chemicals to be used, their hazards and measures provided to control operator exposure (covering safe storage, chemical compatibility, working concentrations/safe dilution procedures and application procedures and equipment).

What do I need to look for when selecting the right chemical clothing solutions?

  • Chemical protection
  • Flexibility
  • Comfort

An example of new industry solutions includes Chemsol HG Lite from worker safety specialist Skytec. The new range of lightweight, flexible clothing provides long lasting chemical protection, thanks to its specially formulated material, combined with an anti-bacterial coating which avoids mould build up.

View the range now:


Globus 360 Programme

Ensuring PPE is compatible is also a necessity. The Globus 360 programme can help you assess and decide what PPE is required for your specific industry and application, with a thorough assessment and ongoing support provided.

To find out more about the Globus 360 programme, click here.

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