Sulfuric Acid Safety in the Workplace
Sulfuric acid is an acid that is used in industrial practices across the country for various purposes everyday. It can be used for etching and cleaning of metals, production of petroleum products, production of fertilizers, production of dyes, and the production of explosives. Sulfuric acid, like any other acid, is extremely reactive and an explosive chemical reaction is guaranteed to occur if it comes in contact with another type of material while you are working. Obviously, this is where you need to have knowledge in sulfuric acid safety to ensure that no accidents happen that involve explosive reactions. Simply put, if sulfuric acid somehow comes in contact with ANY part of your body, you will experience an accelerated and swift destruction of bodily tissues. This rapid destruction could very well cause severe burns that would leave you scarred for life, both physically and emotionally. Not only are burns a problem in themselves, but they can later lead to extended issues such as infections and prolonged recovery. Don’t risk it! Know your sulfuric acid safety before ever working with sulfuric acid in the workplace, we’ll help!
Sulfuric acid needs to be considered dangerous no matter what state it is in. If it is being moved in large, bulk quantities, it should be considered at “full strength” and is extremely dangerous to your health. Avoid contact with “full strength” sulfuric acid at all costs! Even when sulfuric acid is used as a cleaning agent, which means it’s probably diluted, you still need to treat it as an extremely dangerous acid. When the acid is concentrated, it will not only disintegrate your outside layer of skin, but it will puncture through the skin and ravage the flesh underneath. This will not only result in almost unfathomable pain, but it could also lead to blacking out, shock, or another typical reaction when one is severely burned with an acid. Like we mentioned before, even diluted sulfuric acid will cause skin irritation or dermatitis if it comes in contact with your skin. Also, if you breathe in the mists and vapors of the acid for an extended period of time, you could develop a respiratory disorder over time.
For starters, you will need to know how to properly protect yourself when working with sulfuric acid. Considering it can burn through clothes, erode concrete, and etch metal, imagine what it will do to your skin and flesh. Or even worse, imagine what a single drop or two would do to your sensitive eyes. Eye and face protection are absolutely imperative when working with sulfuric acid. Safety glasses alone will not suffice. You will need a face shield and chemical-type goggles. Chemical-type goggles have indirect vents. Your protective clothing should include a long apron and gloves that are both acid resistant. If you are working with sulfuric acid in highly concentrated and dangerous quantities, you need to be wearing high-top boots and an acid resistant “rain suit.” These rain suits must have the pant leg that extends over the top of the boot for full protection. You do not want ANY skin exposed when working with the acid.
If a worker is unfortunate enough to actually come in contact with the acid, swift action MUST be taken IMMEDIATELY. Quickly wash the acid off of the body and get to the hospital or the nearest hose as soon as humanly possible. Time is of essence when sulfuric acid is on the skin, or worse, underneath the skin. Once you start washing, do not stop until you have removed all clothing that has acid on it. Never stop the water, it should keep flowing until the emergency is over. If there is a severe burn involved, the victim may experience shock. If this is the case, keep the victim warm and lay them on their back. Medical help should have been called as soon as it was realized someone was exposed to the acid. While you wait for medics to arrive, do NOT apply any oils, ointments, or any other treatments to the affected area.
If someone is unlucky enough to actually swallow the acid, listen closely to the following! Do NOT try to make the affected individual throw up or vomit. The acid has already burned the person’s throat on the way down, vomiting would only burn their throat again on the way back up. If the victim becomes unconscious, do NOT try to give them anything. However, if the victim IS conscious, IMMEDIATELY dilute the acid. Ideally, you want to give the affected individual milk mixed with egg whites. If that is not available, give them as much water as they can possibly drink. Remember, time is of essence, so if someone swallows sulfuric acid, they should almost immediately be drinking milk or water, and they should not stop until they simply cannot drink anymore.
Sulfuric acid is one of the most dangerous and destructive chemicals you will experience in the workplace. It should be treated as such, and preventative measures such as wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and face and eye protection is absolutely essential to preventing a catastrophe. Work with your site safety program to implement effective prevention and treatment practices and know what you need to do to practice better sulfuric acid safety while you are working. The consequences are simply not worth not being lazy and ignoring sulfuric acid safety precautions. Anyone who has been exposed to sulfuric acid would strongly testify to this.