Safe chemical storage is essential for safety, health and business prosperity

Many industries use and store dangerous chemicals, and the chemical waste produced. Storing these substances safely is essential to protect workers’ health, the environment, and the public from the effects of potential chemical spills and gas emissions. In this article the European Union information agency for occupational safety and health, EU-OSHA, gives tips on how to keep workers safe and healthy.

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Photo: flamm/Pixabay

Which risks arise from unsafe chemical storage?

Improper storage resulting in chemical emissions can be due to many factors. Mechanical damage to containers; container ageing; expansion of the filling; or the sampling and transfer of chemicals, to name a few. To avoid unwanted chemical reaction, strict rules govern the clustering of chemicals in storage rooms.

There are many risks to human health. Some chemicals can cause intoxication, for example when liquid bleach comes into contact with an acidic solution. This is why storing unknown or improperly labelled chemicals can be so dangerous. There is also a risk from using inappropriate boxes, containers or bottles. This is a well-known problem in the agriculture sector, where pesticides are sometimes incorrectly stored in soft drink bottles.

Other risks include chemical burns from corrosive liquids, or chronic effects such as impaired organ function, allergies and even cancers. There is also a risk to the immediate facilities, to the wider environment, and to the public as a result of chemicals altering soils, entering streams and ground waters, or causing fires and explosions. Napo, the hero of a series of animated films, explores these risks in a number of clips covering  chemical risks at work  and  dangers to the environment . These short clips can be a great way of raising awareness about potential accidents.

Designing and implementing a safe chemical storage facility

As a first step, companies should perform a requirement analysis to understand factors including the types of chemicals being stored, their amounts, the storage conditions and compatibility, the accessibility given to trained workers and the  legal requirements . This will feed into a risk assessment which should consider all personnel and environmental risks linked to storage, as well as any specific risks such as the delivery, removal, or transportation of chemicals inside the facility.

All chemical storage facilities should respect general prevention principles. This means using safety and warning signs; planning access and escape routes in the event of accidental emissions; ensuring proper ventilation, air conditioning and lighting; and implementing preventive measures like fire-proof doors and windows and explosion-proof tools.

Integrate chemical safety into your safety management plan

Saku Metall, a sheet metal manufacturer in Estonia, implemented a  5-step strategy  to protect workers from the dangerous chemicals used at its plant. They incorporated safety into a strategy including a new chemical storage system.

The strategy has helped to gradually improve the management of hazardous chemicals at Saku Metall. Inspections and audits show that the storage of dangerous chemicals has improved thanks to the creation and maintenance of a dedicated storage location.

Saku Metall’s strategy can be easily transferred and used by other companies, especially in the manufacturing sector. As well as improving environmental conditions and safety and health factors, the strategy also helps and motivates employees and employers to improve processes, which in turn reduces costs.

Prevention first

Prevention is always the best way to control and reduce the risks of dangerous substances. When it comes to chemicals and chemical storage, the best prevention is good purchasing. This means buying the least hazardous products in the smallest amount required to avoid having hazardous products in storage for long periods of time.

HSE | 16.5.2019

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