Any industrial operation working with chemicals needs to be aware of their potential reactivity—which cannot be mixed, which cannot be heated, which cannot be cooled—in order to maintain a safe working environment. Because mismanaging reactive chemicals can lead to the release of toxic chemicals, fires or explosions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has joined forces with the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) to create a guide to the safe management of these potentially dangerous substances. While the complete safety management plan can be found in the book Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards, we share some of the key safety precautions in this article.
1. Train Staff on Chemical Reactivity Hazards
Even if a company invests in state of the art equipment and safety systems to manage reactive chemicals, the environment cannot be secure unless staff is properly trained to understand potential hazards, identify warning signs of equipment malfunction or other dangers, and appropriately react to contain or minimize hazards. Reactivity hazard information should be included in material safety data sheets (MSDS) and should be distributed to all personnel, even independent contractors. Hazard information should not only include details on the steps necessary to safely handle and manage chemicals, it should also detail the consequences of deviating from appropriate management plans.
2. Identify Process Controls and Risk Management Operations
If a company will be storing, handling or processing reactive chemicals on a regular basis, appropriate receiving and transferring practices need to be in place. From the moment chemicals are delivered, safety controls need to begin. Procedures must be in place to sample chemicals, ensuring that they are the correct materials. Connection points along pipes need to be clearly marked so that chemicals flow in the correct direction and don't accidentally co-mingle. Having clearly written instructions to ensure these processes occur correctly will do much to promote safe handling of hazardous materials.
3. Conduct a Process Hazard Analysis(PHA)
There are several different ways to assess the hazards associated with handling processes that involve one or more reactive chemicals. The most common rely on a series of check-lists designed to identify risks. The key factor in conducting a reliable PHA is that it is conducted by a team including at least one employee who has experience and knowledge related to the process being evaluated.
4. Consider Abnormal Situations
The old saying "hope for the best, prepare for the worst," is extremely relevant when working with reactive chemicals. In order to be truly prepared for a possible disaster, every potential scenario that could result in the accidental release, ignition or explosion of chemicals should be considered and documented. Each eventuality should also have a documented remedial action plan.
5. Conduct Frequent Audits
Even if a company has employed the highest standards of safety, and appropriately trained all staff members in management practices, change is a constant in any work environment. New employees are hired, chemical safety information is updated—all of these changes may have occurred since handling operations were first implemented. For that reason, Safety, Health and Environmental (SHE) audits should be conducted at regular intervals. Team members conducting the audits should be trained to identify the different elements of chemical management systems and determine that each part is functioning correctly. SHE audits should also determine whether or not all staff members have been trained to safely handle reactive chemicals.
If you have been injured or your property has been contaminated as a result of a chemical release, you may be entitled to compensation. At Arnold & Itkin, our industrial injury attorneys have recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of our clients, and we would love the opportunity to advocate on your behalf. We can help you explore all of your options as you pursue a settlement for your injuries. Contact an industrial injury lawyer from our office today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.