Occupational Hazards of Ammonia

Ammonia is a harmful chemical hazard that workplaces need to be aware of and have systems in place to prevent exposure to their employees. Read on to learn more about the occupational hazards of ammonia. 

What is Ammonia?

Ammonia can be a liquid or a gas. Ammonia is a colorless gas that has a distinct odor. It is a building block chemical for many products people use everyday including plastics, explosives, fabrics, pesticides, and dyes.  

Ammonia hydroxide is an ingredient in many household cleaning products. Ammonia is a building block for ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an essential nutrient for growing plants, lawns and crops.    

Pure liquid ammonia is used as a refrigerant gas and in air-conditioning equipment. Ammonia is used to purify water supplies. It also is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. 


Why is Ammonia Harmful? 

Ammonia can be a gas or liquid, although it’s most dangerous as a gas. It’s highly toxic when you inhale it. The level of danger depends on the concentration of ammonia and how long you've been exposed to it. Ammonia gas is a compressed gas, stored under pressure and may explode if heated. Ammonia gas in a confined space can be a fire and explosion hazard. It can decompose at high temperatures forming very flammable hydrogen gas. Ammonia is fatal if inhaled and corrosive to the respiratory tract. Its corrosive properties cause severe skin burns and eye damage. 


What Are the Effects of Ammonia on the Body?

Inhalation exposure to high levels of ammonia in the air irritates the skin, eyes, throat, and lungs and causes coughing and burns. Lung damage and death may occur after exposure to very high concentrations of ammonia. Some people with asthma may be more sensitive to ammonia fumes than others. Ammonia is a very toxic gas and can cause death by life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs known as pulmonary edema.

Symptoms of Ammonia Exposure

Symptoms of exposure may include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest

Symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort. Long-term damage may result from a severe short-term exposure. 

Ammonia is corrosive. The gas irritates or burns the skin. Permanent scarring can result. Direct contact with the liquefied gas can chill or freeze the skin (frostbite). Symptoms of more severe frostbite include a burning sensation and stiffness. The skin may become waxy white or yellow. Blistering, tissue death and infection may develop in severe cases. 

Ammonia gas exposure to the eyes can irritate or burn the eyes. Permanent damage including blindness can result. Direct contact with the liquefied gas can also freeze the eye.

Chronic long-term exposure to ammonia may harm the respiratory system as it can irritate and inflame the airways. 


Elevate the level of occupational health standards for your company.

Who Needs To Be Concerned About Ammonia?


Ammonia is typically found on farms since it can be sprayed as a fertilizer on farm crops. Compost piles on mushroom farms can also generate ammonia gas. Manure pits and any indoor or confined spaces where farm animals are kept can contain ammonia gas. 

Ice Rinks

Ammonia is used in ice rinks, cold storage plants, food and beverage manufacturing and processing, and ice making facilities.  If it leaks it becomes a dangerous toxic gas. Monitoring systems, regular and properly planned maintenance is important to maintain safety in these contained systems.  


Liquid ammonia can be found in cleaners. The risk here is also to not mix ammonia with other cleaners. As many cleaners contain bleach this mixed with ammonia can form deadly chlorine gas. 

How to Prevent Occupational Ammonia Exposure 

Workplaces that use ammonia need to have an ammonia exposure control plan in place for prevention purposes. Contact Chemscape Safety Technologies today to learn how we can provide you with an exposure plan that’s unique to your business. 

Keep your workers healthy, safe, and productive.