You can find it in your home and you can find it in your office. Ammonia is a common and versatile chemical used in everything from household cleaners to lawn fertilizer to refrigeration systems. If you work in one of Minnesota’s many meat processing facilities, it’s likely you interact with ammonia every day.
Despite ammonia’s multi-purpose capabilities, you must exercise caution when handling to protect yourself and others.
Heavy concentrations of ammonia can lead to severe respiratory and skin irritation. Skin contact with ammonia can lead to burns while over-inhalation can lead to coughing. You should never mix ammonia with a chlorinated solution like bleach because it produces a toxic gas that can cause pneumonia and fluid in the lungs.
The government comes down hard on improper handling and storage of ammonia. OSHA fined a Nebraska meat processing facility nearly $200,000 in early 2019 for 16 violations for exposing their workers to ammonia-related hazards.
Know how to protect yourself
The CDC requires employers to maintain written and verbal emergency action plans with procedures for reporting, and evacuation. Every employee must know their responsibilities and made aware of changes to the emergency plan.
Your employer also has a duty to provide protective eyewear, gloves and face masks or ensure you have your own protective equipment if they don’t provide it. If your employer does provide this protective equipment, be sure to ask where it’s kept if you are uncertain. It’s also important to know where eye wash and handwashing stations are in the event ammonia comes into direct contact with your eyes or skin.
You can do your part by protecting yourself when there is a chance for exposure to ammonia. You should protect yourself with proper clothing, gloves and face masks to avoid inhalation problems when handling ammonia. Make sure that necessary windows or doors are open for proper ventilation to avoid lung irritation.
Ammonia is a common chemical that can make your job easier when handled properly. Your employer must ensure you understand safe ammonia handling procedures and that you have the proper protective equipment. Injuries related to ammonia exposure are often preventable and employers and their employees play important roles in that prevention.