Sure, it’s obvious that handling and working with hazardous materials is an inherently risky practice, but it’s important to keep in mind that hazardous materials storage doesn’t totally eliminate their hazards. If we’re not careful and attentive, we run several potentially catastrophic (and costly) risks.
The five most common and serious of these hazardous materials storage risks are:
Explosion and/or sudden release of pressure (if a tank of compressed gas is punctured);
Reactivity (fire, explosion, or release of dangerous gases that can result from contact between particular chemicals, or from certain chemicals and air or water);
Health hazards (can result from over-exposure to a hazardous substance, ranging from minor inconveniences like headaches and skin rashes to much more serious afflictions such as skin burns, organ damage, allergic-type reactions, and even death);
Environmental/community risks (when hazardous substances are spilled or released into water supplies or the air).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a materials handling regulation (29 CFR 1910.176) that covers general safety requirements for storage areas, but there are some basic tips you can follow on a daily basis to keep these risks from becoming realities and boost your chance of overall success.
Check both container labels and Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) before starting any job involving hazardous materials;
Obey all instructions and signs;
Wear appropriate protective clothing and equipment;
Keep hazardous materials in well-maintained storage areas (good ventilation and drainage are key, as well as ensuring that the appropriate emergency equipment is available);
Implement proper ventilation systems to minimize the risk of toxicity, ignition sources, and flammability;
Regularly inspect storage containers to prevent corrosion, leakage, and containment failure;
Follow hazardous material storage guidelines and comply with storage regulations;
Practice good housekeeping procedures to prevent incompatibility and maintain the integrity of hazardous material storage containers (routinely and thoroughly check the state of containers for any holes, leaks, signs of rust or rot, missing labels, and always keep things as neat and clean as possible);
Never underestimate the importance of good lighting (so that you can read labels properly and use your equipment safely);
Be prepared for emergency response situations by having appropriate plans in place;
And of course, if you or anyone else in a storage area is accidentally exposed to a hazardous substance, get out immediately (the exposed person should always receive prompt first-aid attention, and a supervisor or emergency coordinator should always be contacted).
For additional information and resources on hazardous materials storage regulations, check out the link to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): https://www.osha.gov/
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