Chemicals pose various inherent hazards that can lead to dangerous consequences if mishandled. Chemicals are commonly used these days for numerous applications. Laboratories, agriculture, offices, and a variety of industries use chemicals for various purposes. As they are present everywhere in one form or the other, proper care should be given while storing and handling chemicals. HAZCHEM codes and safety data sheets (SDS) are used widely for identifying the chemical’s properties which aid in safe storage, handling, and transportation operations.
DANGERS OF A SPILL
The majority of chemicals that are used in industries pose a threat to human and environmental health. Handling and storing chemicals in the correct way minimizes the inherent risk associated with them. Fire, explosion, contamination of the environment, health problems, slip, trip, and fall are the potential hazards that can happen if the chemicals are not handled or stored properly. Chemicals are capable of causing various acute and chronic health effects.
CAUSES OF A SPILL
The common causes of chemical spills include inappropriate handling procedures, damaged or inappropriate storage vessels, unrestrained access to storage vessels, lack of supervision, and lack of related training.
IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY ACTIONS
The spill should immediately be notified to the supervisor and other workers through warning signs and notice boards. The area should be evacuated if the situation worsens. As soon as the spill is identified the emergency response procedures should be followed. Anyone who has been injured or contaminated should be removed from the location to a safe place for first aid. First aid training is important in cases where immediate help is needed before medical assistance arrives.
Controlling the spill means to stop the spill or to minimize the risk of the situation getting worse. Actions including closing a valve, or repositioning a vessel that has been tipped over, etc. are few examples of the spill control measures that are usually performed. Before engaging in the spill control procedure one should make sure that appropriate PPE is worn as mentioned in the SDS or any material related information references. Consider using a respiratory protection apparatus like a respirator or a self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). These breathing apparatus need specialized training to be worn correctly. Never enter a hazardous atmosphere without breathing protection. chemicals might release fumes that can cause severe health problems and can also be lethal if inhaled. These fumes also tend to cause a fire or explosion if an ignition source is present. In such cases if appropriate and possible, the potential sources of ignition or heat must be shut down. If appropriate, the respective area must be properly ventilated to safely vent the fumes. But it is a common practice to shut down the area completely once everyone has evacuated from the workplace.
CONTAINING THE SPILL
Soon after the emergency actions and spill control measures have been taken, adequate steps must be taken to restrict the spill from contaminating or spreading to other areas. Usually absorbents and neutralizers are used to contain a chemical spill by confining the chemical in one place. The treatment materials depend on the size of the spill. Small quantities of spills can be addressed using chemical treatment or absorption. But if the spill is large, absorption is the common response.
The spilled material should be prevented from spreading to other places especially floor drains that may allow the flow of material into the environment. A spill sock or dike can be used to block or direct the flow of the chemical. Caution tapes or barricades must be used to indicate the area of a spill after they are contained, in order to prevent accidental access to the area.
CLEAN UP PROCESS
Special training and PPE are required to safely carry out the clean-up process. Plastic bags, plastic pails, and drums are used to collect the spilled material in a specific manner. The equipment like brooms, dustpans, and PPE used for the disposal of chemicals are often discarded along with them. If the collected materials can be categorized as hazardous, then they should be labeled
accordingly and proper disposal procedures should be followed as stated by environmental regulations and laws.
Appropriate cleaning agents like a mild detergent, bleach, or any cleaning material that is specified should be employed for cleaning the surface of the spill. The cleaning personnel should undergo thorough decontamination procedures for reducing the risk of getting contaminated.
Spill prevention deals with the assessment of the type of hazard a specific chemical introduces. It also involves finding the weakest link where a spill could happen for example chemical storage containers, handling pipes, valves, or during loading and unloading vehicles, used for transportation.
Equipment used with chemicals should also be well maintained, cleaned, checked periodically for fractures or cracks for leaks, loose connections, and faulty valves.
SPILL RESPONSE PLAN
An organization has to address safety plans for every chemical handled within the premises. The safety plan varies for each chemical based on the hazards and properties. The plan must contain step by step procedure on how to handle an accident based on both the volume handled in the worksite and the potential hazard involved that can be loss of containment or fire and explosion or toxic release. The spill response plan involves the following,
- Guidelines given in materials such as Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), OSHA 1910.120, and other references for spill cleanup guidance, and the appropriate personal protective equipment that must be used.
- Adequate quantities and types of appropriate spill control materials must be accessible to contain the spills or leaks that can be reasonably envisaged depending upon the wear and tear or loss of mechanical strength etc. Equipment must be available not only for containing but also for dispersion or collection.
- Appropriate PPE’s and training for its proper use must be given periodically to all employees working within the same premises.
- The spill response plan in writing must contain names and contact numbers of a responsible person who has the capacity and instructions to handle such incidents to be contacted in the event of a spill.
- They must contain an evacuation plan and safe spot, an open area, or room protected appropriately for employees to reside until the emergency response team approaches the site.
- The properties and hazards of the materials handled in the organization and instructions to proceed for containment and collection or dispersion.
- The location of spill control materials and personal protective equipment inventory.
- Disposal of contaminated equipment, PPE’s and tools used in containing the spill, instruction on decontamination of the area after clean-up.
- Such probability of spills, risks involved, and spill response plans should be communicated to employees through training.By maintaining a thorough plan and with adequate chemical-related training, potential dangers related to chemical storage and handling can be minimized.
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