The history of severe accidents at work due to hydrofluoric acid (HF) make it essential to explicitly highlight the specific dangers of this hazardous acid. In particular, the consequences of contamination of the skin with highly concentrated hydrofluoric acid are very severe and can be fatal.
Extreme caution required when handling hydrofluoric acid!
Safe handling and storage
Where is hydrofluoric acid used?
Hydrofluoric acid is used both concentrated and in hydrofluoric acid products. In addition to its use in the classic chemical industry and chemical laboratories, hydrofluoric acid is mainly used in the electrical, semiconductor and solar industries for surface treatment.
Since the chemical has a corrosive effect on glass, it is used in glass processing for etching, matting and polishing. Hydrofluoric acid is also used to stain the finishing surfaces on stainless steel parts in workshops.
Diluted hydrofluoric acid can be part of various degreasing, washing and cleaning agents for industry and trade.
Protective measures when working with hydrofluoric acid include, for example, careful design of the workplace, safe storage of hydrofluoric acid in the work space and the wearing of personal protective equipment, particularly acid-resistant protective clothing.
What is hydrofluoric acid and why is it so dangerous?
Due to its extremely dangerous properties, extreme care should be taken both when handling and storing hydrofluoric acid!
Hydrofluoric acid is corrosive and highly toxic. It quickly penetrates into the skin, destroys deeper layers of tissue, binds cations and can lead to acute metabolic disorders and impaired kidney function by inhibiting vital enzymes. Contact on a surface area as small as the palm of a hand can lead to cardiovascular breakdown and death. It is particularly treacherous in that a warning pain often only occurs several hours after contact.
The inhalation of hydrofluoric acid vapour is also extremely harmful. Even at low concentrations, it leads to throat irritation and bronchial catarrh. Inhalation of higher concentrations leads to severe lung burn with the formation of pulmonary oedema.
Special case: Storage of hydrofluoric acid
Acids and alkalis should be stored in ventilated cabinets designed for these specific substances. However, the storage of hydrofluoric acid is a special case. Because of the additional danger, hydrofluoric acid must always be stored separately and under lock and key, especially in work rooms. In addition, the chemical should be stored in such a way that only competent and reliable persons have access.
To meet this requirement, asecos has developed a special built-in compartment for storing hydrofluoric acid. The hydrofluoric acid built-in compartment is available for the tall acid-alkaline cabinets in accordance with TRGS 510, Technical Rules for Hazardous Substances.
The hydrofluoric acid built-in compartment
Acid-alkaline cabinet with separate hydrofluoric acid box as interior option: To ensure that only authorised personnel have access to the extremely dangerous substance.
- Hydrofluoric acid can be stored separately in the cabinet interior.
- It can be locked independently of the cabinet and is labelled appropriately on the door.
- It offers the highest possible protection in the event of a leak: the hydrofluoric acid built-in compartment is equipped with an integrated collection tray made of polypropylene. The height of the collection tray is designed so that a 1-litre container can be removed even when upright on the tray and built-in compartment. This ensures additional security.
- Technical ventilation is provided via the existing extraction system from the cabinet interior.
What to do when burnt by hydrofluoric acid?
If burnt by hydrofluoric acid, first aid should be administered immediately. It’s not matter of minutes, but of seconds! All first aiders and staff must be informed about the health hazards and first aid measures in the case of a hydrofluoric acid accident and be instructed about how to behave when work-related accidents occur.
A proven antidote is the injection of the damaged tissue with a calcium gluconate solution. The solution alone is not enough; hydrofluoric acid accidents always require medical treatment. Therefore, the first aid chain between company, company doctor, hospital or emergency service should be determined in advance. First aid rinsing solutions (HEXAFLUORINE) have also proven themselves effective in practice.