It’s common knowledge how important it is to take all the necessary precautions when working and dealing with hazardous materials. However, while we recognize the need to take precautions when dealing with these materials, people don’t always realize that it’s equally important to maintain the exact high level of safety when these dangerous materials are in storage.
Even when hazardous materials are out of sight in containers, they should never be out of your mind. If they’re stored properly, they shouldn’t cause problems. But, if we’re not aware of what safe storage means and how to protect ourselves in a storage area, we put ourselves at the risk of harmful accidents happening.
For that reason, in this brief guide, we’ll discuss the basics of safe hazardous materials storage and the precautions every company should follow when dealing with these materials that can cause significant damage if not handled properly.
The hazardous materials that companies and households usually use and store can pose many different hazards if they’re not stored, handled, and used correctly and safely. Some of these hazards are physical hazards, including fire, explosion, sudden release of pressure, and reactivity.
In addition, many health hazards can happen from overexposure to a hazardous substance. In some cases, the danger is minor, like a mild skin rash or a headache. Nevertheless, some health hazards are much more severe, as, for example, you could get skin burns from contact with corrosive materials or experience organ damage, allergic-type reactions, cancer, and the worst and most rare cases, death.
Even more, often, the risk isn’t just to the people who work with or near the materials in question. For example, a significant spill of dangerous chemicals may pose dangers to many people if the substance gets into the water supply.
As you can tell, there are many potential risks, including some very severe ones in any hazardous substances storage area. But, luckily, there are also many rules and regulations that need to be followed when storing these materials that certainly lessen the risks of an accident happening and havoc breaking out.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration—OSHA has many different rules and regulations that include all the basic requirements for hazardous materials storage. However, the most significant part of these regulations deals with particular substances, like liquefied hydrogen or specific groups of dangerous materials like combustible and flammable liquids.
OSHA also has a material handling regulation that covers basic safety measurements for storage areas no matter what’s actually kept there. For example, standard 1910.253(b)(2) outlines the general storage requirements for gas cylinders that need to be stored in a well-protected, dry location that’s at least 20 feet away from any highly combustible materials. That means that all cylinders filled with propane need to be stored in specialized propane tank storage OSHA-approved lockers to secure against any kind of collapse and not create a hazard.
Material safety data sheets and container labels should help you and the people around you identify all the potential hazards that come with the storage of a given substance or material. However, your organization’s safety procedures, including those demanded by OSHA, are the ones that will help you to work safely with and around those hazardous materials.
There are many ways to get protected from the hazards of stored materials, including:
- The design of areas and storage buildings and the materials used in their construction;
- Installing proper ventilation in the facility;
- Dikes, drainage, and other means of keeping spills from spreading into the water supply;
- Keeping hazardous materials apart from anything that could trigger the hazard, like keeping flammable items away from ignition sources or flames;
- Professional handling and storage rules, like how to stack and remove containers or cylinders;
- Emergency equipment availability, like spill clean-up materials and fire extinguishers;
- Personal protective clothing and equipment;
- First-rate housekeeping practices and controls.
The bottom line is that everyone who works or finds themselves around stored hazardous materials must understand why designated storage areas are set up in the way they are. They’re organized and designed for safety, and it’s your responsibility to keep it that way and immediately report anything you know or think that might not be right.
In the end, the most important thing is to practice all safety procedures and measures you’ll learn along the way for any type of work and facility that involves storing hazardous materials. The bottom line is that dangerous materials do pose hazards. For that reason, keep them correctly, follow OSHA’s guidelines and regulations, and you won’t need to worry about those hazards if you adequately protect everyone in the vicinity of your facility.