Hydrofluoric acid is a very corrosive, highly irritating, and poisonous chemical that is accessible and used in many Australian workplaces.
Burns and exposure to this chemical can be severely painful and cause extensive damage or even death.
The Risks Associated With Hydrofluoric Acid
Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) Is a chemical compound that exists as a colourless glass or a fuming liquid. Its unique properties make it significantly more hazardous than other commonly used acids.
HF has many uses – mineral digestion, surface cleaning, etching, biological staining, and more. Even small amounts of this acid can be fatal and cause serious damage when exposed to the skin. Anyone who has access to this compound should not underestimate the risks that come with it.
Depending on the concentration level, exposure to HF can result in death. The main reason for this is the acid enters the bloodstream, which can trap calcium and magnesium. In a snap, the acid can quickly damage vital organs, including the heart, muscles, and the nervous system.
Skin contact with a concentrated solution of this acid can also result in major burns and death. The diluted solution can quickly penetrate the skin without an immediate burning sensation.
The delay in the body’s reaction to the acid is what makes it more dangerous. Many workers are unaware they are exposed to or had contact with HF due to a lack of symptoms.
But once the acid the body, it will continually cause damage even after washing off the exposed skin. Eye contact with the chemical can also cause immediate blindness and permanent eye damage.
For inhalation exposure, the workers will not be at risk unless the fuming HF contains greater than or equal to a 40% concentration level.
First Aid Treatment
HF is a hazardous chemical, and the full extent of injuries may not be obvious in the first couple of hours. Immediate first aid treatment is essential, even for minor exposure.
Following direct contact with the acid, the skin can produce deep and extremely painful burns, damaging the deeper layers of the skin.
For first aid treatment, immediately proceed to a source of water and flood the exposed area with large amounts of water. Remove all contaminated clothing, including jewellery, while rinsing.
Use a calcium gluconate gel to massage the skin thoroughly while flushing with water. For responders, never touch the victim without gloves and other protective gear.
Once done, call triple zero (000) and inform the dispatcher that a person was exposed to hydrofluoric acid. Continue the application of calcium gluconate gel while waiting for medical services to arrive.
Fumes from HF acid can cause eye dryness and a burning sensation inside the eye. It can cause irreversible damage to the cornea, including possible dryness.
After exposure, immediately proceed to a wash station and flush the eyes with water for at least 10 minutes. Hold it open during irrigation and if the victim is wearing contact lenses, have them removed as soon as possible.
Call emergency medical services and apply an ice compress to the eye area while waiting for help to arrive.
After an HF exposure, the effects on the lungs can occur or be delayed in between the first 36 hours.
Remove the person to the exposed air while ensuring the responder’s safety. If the person is not breathing and has lost consciousness, begin artificial respiration right away.
Oxygen should be given as soon as possible by a trained first aider. Avoid mouth-to-mouth contact by using CPR barriers such as mouth guards or face shields.
Swallowing even the tiniest amount of hydrofluoric acid can cause various effects. These include burning and bleeding of the digestive tract, vomiting, diarrhoea, and blood pressure collapse.
When this happens, do not induce vomiting. Instead, rinse the person’s mouth with clean water. Give half to one cup of water, milk, or calcium/ magnesium-containing antacid for conscious victims.
Call emergency services right away.
First aid treatment for hydrofluoric acid burns and exposure will include basic life support, wound care, and appropriate decontamination.
Effective and quick first aid intervention can keep the person stable while waiting for advanced medical treatment.
Learn first aid today to keep the workplace safe from chemical injuries and other hazards in the working environment.