How to Handle Chemical Spills
The goal of workplace safety programs is primarily to prevent accidents and injuries by helping train people on how to minimize risk and work more safely. An important part of any program also must focus on how to respond when something goes wrong. Nowhere is this truer than when there is a chemical spill in the facility. Depending on the types of chemicals being used in the facility, a spill can have a wide range of different risks associated with it. Safety Toolbox Talks lists a few of the most significant risks related to a chemical spill:
Unplanned release of a chemical can have devastating effects. Skin and eye burns, damage to the lungs, fire and explosion, corrosive damage to materials, pollution of air, soil and water, and danger to the public are just some of the possible consequences of a chemical spill. Chemical spills can be in the form of liquids, solids such as pellets, gases and vapors. They can be flammable (quick to burn or explode), corrosive (damaging to human tissue or other materials), or toxic (poisonous to humans and other living things)
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These types of risks can be from an individual chemical that is spilled, or when two or more chemicals spill and get mixed together. Helping employees know how to quickly evaluate the situation and respond properly can help minimize the damage, reduce injuries and even save lives. When creating a workplace safety program, make sure to include training on how to handle chemical spills properly.
Step 1 – What Chemicals are Being Used?
When creating a training program about chemical spills, the first thing to do is make an inventory of all the different chemicals that are used in the facility. Consider chemicals in liquid, solid and gas forms, as they can all cause significant problems. When going through the facility and taking an inventory of what chemicals are present, make sure you’re looking through all the different departments. Some areas, like the cleaning or maintenance crews might be contracted out to a third party, so make sure you get a list of all the chemicals they use as well. In addition, all chemicals should be properly labeled with GHS labels. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) helps to communicate the physical and health hazards associated with various chemicals.
Step 2 – What Dangers do the Chemicals Present?
Once you’ve got that list together, figure out all the hazards associated with each individual chemical, as well as any additional risks that could be present in the event that any two (or more) chemicals mix together. Many chemicals, for example, can cause burns to skin if it comes in contact with it. Other chemicals can turn into a gas when in open air, which can be very toxic. There is an almost endless list of different dangers chemicals can cause, so make sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Step 3 – Create an Emergency Response Plan for Each Area
Once you know what potential dangers you’re working with, you need to create an emergency response plan. This plan should be tailored to the specific situations that could come up when working with the various chemicals in the facility. Remember, the first goal of any plan is going to be keeping all the employees of the facility safe. This will often require an evacuation plan, similar to a fire drill. Beyond that, proper containment and cleanup of the spill is essential. If neglected, chemicals can seep into the ground, causing a lot of environmental damage. Using proper spill kits can help contain spills and properly dispose of chemicals. There are many spill kits available such as, Universal, Oil-only, or Hazmat kits.
Other types of chemicals can evaporate into the air, causing health risks to those in the area. Knowing how to contain the spill and minimize the damage is an essential part of any safety plan. This can begin with having chemical neutralizers on hand to remove the danger from a spill. For chemicals that can go up in the air, having an air filtration system available that can be turned on quickly can greatly reduce the overall risk.
While working on cleaning or containing a chemical spill, it is also important to notify any necessary authorities of the issue. There are often government agencies that will need to come in to make sure it is cleaned up properly, and assess any long term risks that may be present. This doesn’t apply to all types of chemical spills, but knowing who needs to be notified concerning each type of chemical spill is another important part of the safety training.
Step 4 – Providing Training
Once you’ve got all the information gathered together, you’ll have to make sure everyone in the facility is trained on how they would respond to a chemical spill. Depending on the size and type of the facility, this can be done in one large training session, or it can be broken up based on different departments. By focusing on one department at a time, it is often easier to provide more in depth training about the specific risks that are likely to occur in each area.
Keep in mind that in addition to training each employee on how to handle a chemical spill, you also need to provide some instruction to guests, temporary employees, and contractors. This can often be done with simple safety signs and other visible indicators that will help direct people in the event of an emergency. Marking off clear escape routes from different areas of the facility with safety floor tape is another excellent way to improve the overall safety in the facility.
Part of this training should also include teaching employees when they should not attempt to contain or clean a spill. In many cases, a spill will be too dangerous or too large to deal with on their own, and evacuation is the only safe option. This should be explained and even encouraged to help ensure everyone in the facility is as safe as possible. If someone attempts to contain a spill on their own when they shouldn’t, it could put them at risk, which may require others to attempt to rescue them, which puts additional individuals at risk.
Step 5 – Provide any Personal Protection Equipment Necessary
When there are chemical spills it might be necessary to have employees put on safety gear so they can safely respond to the spill. This could include a chemical protection suit, a ventilation mask, or any number of other things. Having this type of equipment available to the employees who work in the area can help them to be able to respond more quickly, without being at risk of injury or even death.
Using Safer Chemicals
Another option that many facilities can consider when looking at improving the safety of a facility is using different chemicals that are safer. In some instances it may be possible to use a safe alternative to harsh or dangerous chemicals, without sacrificing on results. This is commonly done for cleaning supplies. Rather than using bleach or ammonia to clean something, for example, a more natural alternative can be a good option.
This can be especially effective for situations where there is significant risk when one of the cleaning chemicals is accidentally mixed with another harmful chemical, resulting in significant danger. Being able to reduce the risk associated with these chemicals by simply removing the cleaning supply and replacing it with something else is a great way to improve the overall safety of the facility.
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