Hydrofluoric acid is a dangerous, corrosive and poisonous substance that can take the form of liquid or vapour. It has a number of industrial and commercial applications, and any workplace which stores and uses hydrofluoric acid must be prepared for the risks posed to employees by this substance.
The dangers of exposure to Hydrofluoric Acid
Hydrofluoric acid can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled, or exposed to a large area of skin. It causes severe burns to the skin that are not always visible straight after exposure. The acid also interferes with nerve functions, meaning burns may not be painful at first. For these reasons, even if there are no immediate symptoms, anyone who comes into contact with hydrofluoric acid should seek immediate medical attention. The acid is also extremely harmful to eyes, the digestive and respiratory tracts. Bone damage can also be a symptom after exposure. With such severe dangers associated with the acid, it is fundamental that sufficient workplace assessments are carried out to mitigate the risk associated with using and storing hydrofluoric acid.
The law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health, in accordance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. A Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Risk Assessment should be conducted before handling the acid. This assessment will look at workplace activities involving the substance, recommend precautions, suggest measures to adequately control exposure and prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents and incidents.
Uses in Industry
Typical uses of hydrofluoric acid in industry include etching/frosting glass, stain removal in fabric, present in solvents and propellants, tanning in the leather industry and the production of high octane fuels.
There should be sufficient numbers of trained first aiders in any workplace that uses the acid who understand the treatment that is required after exposure to hydrofluoric acid. Calcium gluconate gel can be used as initial treatment after skin exposure, however, professional medical treatment remains a necessity as the acid is absorbed by the skin.
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