Tips to Handle Irritants in the Workplace

Last week we discussed workplace irritants and the effects they can have. It is incredibly important to have proper safety procedures in place to ensure employees know what to do should they encounter irritants, and to follow guidelines and processes. So, today, let’s talk about how to handle irritants in the workplace. 


As soon as potential irritants at the workplace have been identified, companies should proceed with exposure monitoring and hazard assessment. Employers may try eliminating irritants; upholsterers may install carpets on stairs using double-sided tape and clamps instead of adhesives; heating instead of disinfectants may sterilize medical equipment.  


Workplaces can also try to substitute irritants with less harmful substances. One example is using less volatile hardeners for epoxy resins, which will reduce inhalation. Changing the form of the product from a powder to a pellet or disc will also reduce hazardous exposure. 


There are also more specific ways to ensure you protect your employees from workplace irritants including engineering and administrative controls as well as providing proper personal protective equipment: 


Engineering Controls: 

General ventilation and local exhaust ventilation can be effective in the control of airway irritants. Examples include:  

  • Ventilated chemical/paint spraying booths.
  • Local exhaust ventilated wood sanding machines. 
  • Welding/cutting with general or local exhaust ventilation.

If automation is not possible, specific tools and equipment may still reduce exposure, such as:  

  • Use High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) or Air mix spray guns to reduce overspray. 
  • Using long-handled rollers for painting or coating floors to reduce the inhalation of vapours and dermal exposures.

 Administrative Controls: 

  • Job rotation may prevent skin disease by reducing exposure time. 
  • Separation of certain activities, and restricted access, may reduce exposure. 
  • Cleaning the production facilities only starts after process workers have left so that no unprotected workers are exposed to the strong cleaning agents.
  • Work procedures and training workers on safely completing hazardous work tasks.

Personal Protective Equipment: 

PPE may only be used when other measures are not sufficiently effective. Or not possible. The following should be considered for eye protection: 

  • Safety glasses. 
  •  Goggles.
  • Face shields.

PPE for protecting workers’ exposed skin from irritants includes: 

  • Consult the SDS and the product information of the glove for the maximum use time for the irritating substance.
  • Use disposable gloves only once to reduce the chance of skin exposure when putting them on and removing them.
  • Never wear gloves when the hands or the gloves are wet or contaminated.
  • Do not use moisture-tight gloves longer than needed; the hands may get wet because of perspiration within 10 minutes, which may lead to contact dermatitis.
  • Prevent the effect of moisture by perspiration by using inner cotton gloves.

To prevent inhalation of solid or airborne irritants:  

  • Respirators (full-face or half-mask) may be sufficient in low-hazard jobs. 
  • Depending on the specific substance and process, options may be required, including powered air-purifying or full-face air-supplied respirators. 

The safety of employees should always be your main priority. Therefore, if you do not have proper procedures in place to keep individuals safe from workplace irritants, you need to implement one! If you have questions about what is needed for your business or organization, contact our team today.   

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