Chemical Safety and Storage

By: Jane Marsh, Contributor

Chemicals, both caustic and benign, play essential roles in nearly every industry. Their use is unavoidable. However, while dangerous, they don’t have to present a hazard for employees in the workplace.

How can managers and business owners improve chemical safety and storage protocols in their own workspaces with the goal of keeping employees safe?

Provide PPE

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is easily one of the most important parts of chemical safety in the workplace. The required PPE will vary depending on the type of chemicals in the workplace, and while the below list is not an exhaustive list, they may include:

  • Eye protection
  • Gloves, including chemical-resistant options
  • Skin coverage
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Respiratory protection
  • Aprons
  • Splash shields
  • Earplugs

It is also important to provide various size options for men and women, as PPE sized and designed for men won’t provide adequate protection for women due to differences in bone structure, body size and shape.1

Go Green

As we collectively work toward creating more sustainable industries, the focus is beginning to shift toward chemical waste and the impact it has on the environment.

With public safety in mind, the medical industry is one of the biggest offenders, generating massive amounts of physical and chemical waste after every procedure. For example, a single hysterectomy in the U.S. produces more than 20 pounds of waste, most of which is single-use instruments and plastics that can’t be sterilized and reused.2

Chemical waste is even more challenging. A plastic drape may sit in the landfill for hundreds of years before it breaks down into microplastics. Chemicals can leach into the surrounding ecosystems, contaminating soil and water supplies for years or decades to come.

Chemical disposal will vary depending on the type of waste but paying close attention to proper disposal procedures can help reduce a company’s impact on the planet while keeping employees safe.

Store Supplies Safely

Short- and long-term storage for various dangerous chemicals is part of most standard operating procedures. Keeping employees safe means storing each type of chemical correctly.3

Here are some critical safety precautions to keep in mind:

  • Keep all chemicals in their original containers whenever possible.4 When it isn’t, any new containers should be clearly labeled with all necessary information.
  • Limit chemical storage to the substances actively used in the facility. Keeping acid around when you have no actual application for it is a recipe for trouble.
  • Follow all chemical storage guidelines as outlined in each product’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
  • Any chemicals that might emit fumes should be stored in a well-ventilated area.
  • Materials that are prone to biofilm buildup, such as those that contain microparticles between 0.45 and 5.0 microns in size, need to be carefully monitored, especially if they’re used in a filtered system.5
  • Flammable liquids need their own cabinet to prevent a chemical fire. Keep at least one Class-D fire extinguisher or another rated for chemical fires on hand in your storage area.
  • Keep acids and bases separate if your facility requires both. If you have acids on hand, keep at least one strong base in your facility for neutralizing spills.
  • Anyone who uses chemicals in the workplace needs comprehensive and continued training to optimize safety.

Each chemical you use in your facility should have a storage and disposal plan outlined before you ever open the first container. Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Each material in your facility will have its own requirements, and it’s important to accommodate them to store each chemical safely.

Looking Forward

Chemical use and storage are common parts of nearly every industry — so common, in fact, that these tasks are easy to take for granted. Take the time to reinforce chemical storage and use training frequently to ensure it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. All it takes is one mistake to result in a serious injury.

When stored and used correctly, these materials are a vital part of research, engineering and manufacturing. Don’t overlook their hazards. WMHS

Jane Marsh covers topics in green technology and manufacturing. She also works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co.

1 https://rcni.com/nursing-standard/opinion/comment/ppe-one-size-fits-all-design-a-fallacy-thats-putting-female-health-staff-risk-160536
2 https://environment.co/green-healthcare-for-medical-manufacturing/
3 https://www.bu.edu/ehs/ehs-topics/chemical/safe-handling-and-storage-of-chemicals/
4 https://blog.epa.gov/2014/03/20/keep-pesticides-and-other-chemicals-in-their-original-containers-to-prevent-poisonings/
5 https://blog.aquaphoenixsci.com/the-nexus-between-mechanical-filtration-and-chemical-treatment-in-cooling-water-applications

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