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Caustic Substance

By: Tabitha Mishra
| Last updated: April 7, 2022

What Does Caustic Substance Mean?

Caustic substances or chemicals are acidic or alkaline substances that are capable of damaging living tissue. They are highly corrosive and pose a risk to workers who must handle them or work in proximity to them.

Safeopedia Explains Caustic Substance

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), external burns are the most common injury resulting from exposure to caustic substances.

Caustic soda, also known as lye and sodium hydroxide (NaOH), is the caustic substance most commonly used in commercial operations. It has uses in various industries, such as paper manufacturing, textile manufacturing, and the production of consumer-grade cleaners and soaps.

Risks Associated with Caustic Substances

The danger of exposure to a caustic substance varies depending on how strongly alkaline or acidic the substance is, the stability of the compound that it is a part of, and its concentration. Most caustics tend to be highly acidic or basic, depending on the pH.

Caustic substances damage tissue by accepting a proton (alkaline substance) or donating a proton (acidic substance) in an aqueous solution.

Due to their hazardous nature, these substances are subject to hazard communication standards such as the provision of Safety Data Sheets that describe their hazards and display GHS warning signage.

Storing and Handling Caustic Substances

Highly corrosive caustic substances that are recognized as having the capacity to degrade material must be stored in secondary storage containers to prevent exposure in the event of a spill. They must also be kept separate from acids, with which strong caustics react violently. Storage rooms must be fire-resistant and well secured.

Furthermore, the use of proper workplace ventilation equipment is necessary to keep exposure at a safe level. Many caustic substances emit fumes, and some caustic substances can degrade metals such as zinc, tin, and lead through a chemical reaction resulting in the formation of combustible gas.

OSHA Standards for Caustic Substances

OSHA standards require employers to provide any worker who could be exposed to unsafe levels of any chemical substance, including caustic chemicals, with adequate PPE to protect against their hazards.

OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) provide regulatory exposure limits for various individual caustic substances.

Preventing Exposure to Caustic Substances

Below are some of the possible solutions employers can incorporate to protect workers from exposure to caustic chemicals:

  • Identify caustic hazards on the jobsite and perform exposure evaluations
  • Ventilate rooms where caustic chemicals are stored or used to reduce the concentration of the subtance in the air
  • Provide each worker with adequate hand protection, respiratory protection, eye protection, and any other covering they might need to work safelty with caustics
  • Purchase and use specialized processing, handling, and storage equipment
  • Install emergency facilities for accidental exposure, including eyewash stations or safety showers
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