Why are corrosive substances harmful?

Feb 3, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

Corrosive substances are very dangerous because they destroy human cells and tissue from the first moment of contact. Cell and tissue destruction is visible, irreversible and very, very painful.  

And because corrosives appear in different forms (liquids, gases, and solids) they are capable of damaging skin and eyes, the respiratory tract through inhalation, and even the gastrointestinal tract if they are ingested. 

This blog post looks at corrosives in their different forms, hazards, and some general advice for using them safely at work. 

SAFETY TIP: download our FREE eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace and learn how to fulfil your WHS obligations. 

How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace


Corrosive Liquids 

Corrosive liquids like sulphuric acid, hydrogen peroxide, bromine cause immediate tissue damage when splashed onto the skin. Splash injuries can be avoided by having safe work procedures, wearing PPE and training your staff 

It’s also essential to design your workplace so that staff cannot accidentally contact corrosive liquids. Like a US maintenance worker in 2015 who slipped and fell backwards into a tank of phosphoric and sulphuric acid. The walkway and platform above that acid tank should have had hand railings and toe boards installed. The worker survived but suffered severe burns to his face and internal organs. 

Storage and handling tips for liquid corrosives 

  • corrosives should be stored inside specially designed corrosion-resistant cabinets 
  • store corrosive liquids below eye level 
  • don’t allow corrosives to contact heat or ignition sources 
  • store corrosives away from other incompatible substances 
  • have Safety Data Sheets SDSs stored with the chemical 
  • ensure emergency wash stations and spill clean-up equipment is on hand 


Corrosive Gases 

Corrosive gases are especially dangerous because they begin to burn and destroy tissue as soon as they are inhaled. Also, corrosive gases are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs. Chlorine and ammonia are both corrosive gases that are common to workplaces everywhere and have been the cause of numerous workplace deaths and critical incidents.  

One of the most dangerous aspects of corrosive gases like chlorine and ammonia is that leaks and gas clouds can quickly spread and cause harm to employees (even the general public) unaware of an incident . A salient example in the US (2010) when a ruptured cylinder released a giant, greenish-yellow cloud of chlorine gas at a workplace, causing line staff, administration personnel and even customers to run for their lives. 23 were hospitalised and 2 put on life support, eventually surviving with permanent injuries. 

Storage and handling tips for corrosive gases 

  • make sure storage areas are well ventilated and if possible in a dedicated room with exhaust fans and ducting 
  • install air monitoring equipment and alarms with shutdown feature in case of leaks 
  • ensure that employees don’t work with corrosive gases alone. 
  • workers should wear full coverage and respiratory PPE 
  • gas mask with their own air supply should be available 
  • ensure cylinders are labeled correctly with the appropriate warnings signs for Dangerous Goods 


Corrosive Solids 

Corrosive solids that contact the skin and eyes cause immediate irritation and cellular damage. Corrosive solids often produce dust which is equally harmful when inhaled or ingested. Corrosive solids include sodium hydroxide and phenol.  

Storage and handling tips for corrosive solids 

  • clearly label corrosives as dangerous goods making sure they display the correct hazard class, pictogram and warning statements 
  • corrosive solids are often mixed with water, so make sure this is done slowly, allowing time for cooling 
  • store corrosive solids away from water, heat, oxidisers and ignition sources 
  • wear full coverage PPE including chemical resistant gloves, aprons, eye shields and masks 


Training Your Staff 

One of the most important elements of workplace safety is to ensure that your staff are appropriately trained. Apart from safe handling procedures, and how to use PPE, all staff should know if their safety may be impacted by corrosive substances (even administration staff) and know what to do in an emergency.  

Training staff about how to safely use corrosive chemicals should be ongoing, using different methods. Training  can include … 

  • Induction training when the worker commences employment or is moved to a new department or job role 
  • Regular emergency training with simulated evacuation drills 
  • Formal training in PPE use (what to use, when to wear it, how to take it off when contaminated, disposal and testing). 
  • Regular toolbox talks and staff meetings dedicated to safe work methods 


Next Steps 

Now you know more about the dangers of using corrosive substances at your workplace are you ready for the next step? If you’re serious about workplace safety and compliance be sure and download our FREE eBook which outlines How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s easy to understand, and provides you with an action plan plus the templates you need to ensure your workplace complies with WHS laws. Read it today. 

REMEMBER: if possible substitute corrosives for a less harmful substance 

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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