The serious business of storing hazmats
Yes, storing hazardous materials is serious business â€” with dangerous, potentially catastrophic consequences.
Thatâ€™s why many facilities draw up detailed hazmat storage policies and procedures that, among other things, ban smoking; specify chemicals to be stored separately; and require labels, warnings, audits, use of approved containers and sufficient ventilation when necessary.
But in too many workplaces, hazmat storage â€” like housekeeping in general â€” doesnâ€™t get the attention its risks require. Itâ€™s easy to fall into an â€œout of sight, out of mindâ€ trap when looking to store solvents, gas and oxygen cylinders and any number of chemicals. Complacency creeps in. Employees accustomed to seeing thinners, cleaners, gas cans or pesticides around the shop forget the potentially deadly consequences of poor storage decisions.
Initial assessmentA serious approach to safely storing hazardous materials starts with checking into all applicable local, state, and federal fire codes and safety regs. Make sure youâ€™re in compliance.
Check your material safety data sheets for storage instructions. MSDSs will list safe storage conditions as well as conditions that should be avoided.
If you still have questions, bring in a local fire department or hazmat emergency response squad officials to help with your assessment. Fire and emergency services should be updated regularly on what potentially dangerous materials you have on site, where they are kept, and in what quantities.
Then draft a plan and enforceable policy for storing hazmats. At Clemson University, the EHS department looks to store hazmats in low-traffic, but accessible, areas. The number of storage locations and amounts on hand should be kept to a minimum, according to Clemsonâ€™s EHS policy.
Other issues to consider when mapping out storage locations:
Know your inventoryInventory control of hazmats is critical. Refer to MSDSs for information about chemical properties. NASAâ€™s policy states that toxic materials must be physically separated from materials not classified as toxic. Plus, toxic materials should be segregated according to the type of material to be stored, according to NASA.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department advises that incompatible acids should be stored separately from each other (such as nitric acid, perchloric acid, acetic acid).
Selection of storage cabinets and containers is critical, too. Hereâ€™s how specific NASA gets about cabinet requirements for storing acids and bases:
Activate awarenessSigns and labels also deserve serious attention. Check for specific regulatory requirements, such as hazard communication labeling. NASAâ€™s policy states: â€œA room where toxic materials are stored must be clearly identified with highly visible TOXIC MATERIALS signs at all entrances, and doors shall have a National Fire Protection Association Chemical Hazard Rating System sign with hazard explanations.â€
States the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department: â€œAll cabinets that contain hazardous materials, whether approved or not, must be labeled on the outside as to its contents. Letters must be at least one inch high.â€
NASA also takes these steps regarding labels and markings:
The human factorMany of the keys to safe hazmat storage depend on knowing your toxic materials, regulatory requirements, environmental conditions and matching cabinets and containers to your materials. But obviously, you canâ€™t neglect human factors.
Your employees need to be trained and made fully aware of the seriousness of your hazmat storage policies and procedures. Receiving crews should know to segregate hazardous and incompatible materials and use designated storage locations in the facility. No smoking zones must be enforced. Complete and accurate inventories of chemicals and hazardous materials should be maintained. Conduct periodic and annual inspections of storage areas and procedures.
SIDEBAR: OSHAâ€™s checklist â€” storing flammable & combustible materials