All workers have a right to work safely; in fact, the law requires an employer to give its employees a proper work environment free of known dangers. Ammonia is one common chemical that most probably have under the kitchen sink, but don’t be fooled by this; the chemical is a high health hazard due to corrosion it can cause to the lungs, eyes and skin. Being exposed to 300 ppm is immediately life-threatening, and the chemical is flammable starting at a 15 percent volume in air concentration.
As workers, it is important to know how to use ammonia safely. With regular exposure to the chemical in the work environment, it is possible to become desensitized to the irritating effects that it can cause, which makes it more difficult to recognize when the concentration is at a dangerous level. Workers should not use smell for the sole warning; it is extremely important to have ammonia detection systems installed wherever the chemical is present.
Safely Working with Ammonia
All employees must follow several precautions and standard safe practices that apply within the facility:
- Employees working with hazardous chemicals must wear protective equipment. For ammonia, this includes skin, face and eye protection. Additional respiratory protection is necessary with gaseous ammonia.
- Take precautions whenever performing hot work in areas containing ammonia. If containers, vessels or piping have contained ammonia and are to be cut, drilled, welded or soldered, be sure to fully purge the ammonia first.
- Never use ammonia in an area without proper ventilation. Always be sure that there is enough ventilation and that it will not spark or explode.
- Always keep ammonia away from chemicals that are not compatible with it. Store this chemical away from sources of ignition or heat.
- Know the correct course of action in the event of a leak or a spill. Working with ammonia requires knowing the location of emergency respirators; don one of these and immediately evacuate the area, reporting the spill such that it can be properly controlled.
- Understand how to treat splashes. Liquid ammonia burns the eyes, so know how to find and use the emergency eyewash in the area.
Treating Ammonia Exposure
After being exposed to a high amount of ammonia, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Until then, there are some steps to take as you wait for medical help.
- Ammonia in the eyes: Immediately proceed to the eyewashing station and flush the eyes completely, lifting the eyelids as necessary.
- Ammonia exposure on the skin: If there is irritation, blot away the chemical and immediately flush the skin with clean water. If any clothing is affected, remove the article and wash away the area of skin with water.
Ammonia breathed in: Immediately head to fresh air. If the worker isn’t breathing, initiate artificial respiration immediately. Be sure the worker is warm until medical assistance arrives to take over treatment.