Chemical Spills in the Workplace
When it comes to safety hazards in the workplace, there are few things that are as scary or serious as a chemical spill. Whether it is a small spill or something bigger, they can all be extremely dangerous to the people working in the facility as well as any products or equipment that they come in contact with.
The best way to prevent injuries or even fatalities is to plan ahead so everyone knows how to respond when this type of event occurs. The following tips will allow your facility to operate as safely as possible, and react properly in the event of this type of emergency.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #1 – Know Your Chemicals
One of the most important things you can do to minimize the danger related to a chemical spill is to make sure everyone knows what types of chemicals they are working with. This is essential because each chemical will have different requirements for the cleanup process.
For example, some chemicals will give off toxic vapors if they are spilled where as others are only harmful if they come in contact with your skin. Obviously, you will need to handle the response and cleanup efforts differently in each case. To ensure everyone knows what chemicals are being used, consider printing custom safety labels for all the containers.
These labels can be printed off with an industrial label printer onto high quality vinyl label stock. This way people can quickly see what the chemical is, and even read the emergency response requirements right on the container.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #2 – Use a Spill Kit
Any area of the facility where chemicals are used or stored should have a high quality chemical spill cleanup kit (similar to this) nearby. There are many types of kits on the market to choose from, so make sure you have the right ones for the types of chemicals or products you use. For example, some are made specifically for corrosive chemicals, and others are used for oil based spills.
While each kit will have its own set of materials, they should all have at least the following items:
- Sorbants – Any absorbent product that is designed to suck up the liquid or gas from the spill.
- Pads – Chemical cleanup pads are large pads that can be placed directly over the spill. They will absorb the chemical and also help to trap any fumes or vapors to reduce the danger in the area.
- Pillows – Like a pad, pillows can help to absorb chemicals, but they are thicker so they can be used in different areas.
- Socks – Protect your shoes and feet when working around chemical spills. These types of socks can go directly over your shoes quickly and easily.
Remember, once you’ve used a chemical spill cleanup kit, you must replace it immediately so that you will be ready for any future spills.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #3 – Notify Authorities
Depending on the type of chemical spill that occurs, you may be required by law to notify the proper authorities. This will typically start with local hospitals so they can have an ambulance dispatched in case anyone is injured. You may also have to file a report with OSHA or the EPA.
Having a good understanding of which groups or agencies need to be notified is very important. Of course, some of them will need to know sooner than others, so keep that in mind.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #4 – Evacuation Routes
For most types of evacuations you will want everyone to proceed to the nearest exit so they can meet in a designated safety area. For chemical spills, however, it is better to direct people away from the spill first, and then to an exit. Keeping people away from hazardous chemicals and vapors is the top priority.
With this in mind, it can be a good idea to use temporary safety signs that can be put in place to tell people to avoid a certain area. These signs can be fairly generic with just arrows or stop signs, as long as people know that it means that they should avoid a specific area and find a different route out of the building.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #5 – Know Exposure Symptoms
You should have someone on site that can help to identify any signs that someone is having an adverse reaction to either the fumes or other exposure to the chemical spill. Each person will have a different sensitivity level to each chemical, so being able to detect early symptoms can help avoid more serious problems.
If your facility has a lot of different chemicals in it, you may want to create a small handbook that lists all the possible reactions that people will have due to exposure. Asking people to report it to you if they are experiencing any of them will allow you to get proper medical attention if necessary.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #6 – Activate Ventilation Systems
For many chemicals the most dangerous part of a spill is the fumes or vapors that are present. They can cause severe eye damage, respiratory damage or even be a fire hazard. With this in mind, you want to activate your emergency ventilation system as quickly as possible. If you don’t have one in place already, it may be a safety improvement that you want to look into.
It is even required when you are working with certain types of chemicals. This ventilation system should filter out any environmentally hazardous chemicals so that you aren’t poisoning the air. The most important thing is to minimize people’s exposure to harmful fumes or vapors, and your venting system is one of the most effective ways to do that.
Chemical Spill Cleanup Tip #7 – Don’t be a Hero
One of the most important things you can tell your employees is that they should not go into the area where the spill is unless they have the proper training and equipment. People often try to help others by rushing into a dangerous situation, and that only serves to create an additional victim. Instead it is much better to run to get help.
Make sure everyone knows that you have trained individuals who will be able to put on safety suits and use the chemical spill kits properly. If a spill occurs, the first priority of everyone in the facility is to get themselves to safety as quickly as possible.
How to Use Your Spill Kit
Continue to Provide Training
Even after you’ve given these tips and tricks to all the employees, remember that this is just the beginning. Providing everyone in the facility with regular training classes or other information will help to ensure they can respond properly in the event of an emergency.
In addition, doing all you can to prevent chemical spills before they happen is essential. This starts by making sure everyone follows all the established safety rules and regulations, and never takes shortcuts when it comes to working with any type of chemical in the facility.
By planning ahead and always focusing on safety, you can help to keep everyone in the facility working safely, and respond properly in the event that a chemical spill does occur.
- How to Handle Chemical Spills
- Effective Skin Protection against Chemical Spills
- Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals – 1910.119
- Chemical Safety in the Workplace and SDS (Safety Data Sheets)
- Planning Ahead for an Emergency Response