How do I store 55-gallon drums of hazardous chemicals?
Everyone knows that you’ve got to be extremely careful when handling hazardous chemicals. But what about when you’re storing them?
When storing hazardous materials in 55-gallon drums, it's important to make sure you're doing so properly and following all applicable safety requirements.
Here’s what you need to do to remain safe.
1. Inspect the Drums Prior to Handling Them
Look for rust, dents, or signs of obstruction that could lead to a leak. Pay particular attention to signs of swelling or bulging, which could indicate that the container is under pressure.
If there are signs of damage or erosion, contact a supervisor immediately. A leaking or otherwise damaged drum can be over-packed in an 85-gallon drum to prevent continuous leaking, but should not be stored like this.
2. Understand What’s Being Stored
Read the labels to understand what chemical is inside the drum and whether it requires special handling or storage protocols. All stored materials should be properly labeled at all times to ensure the chemical can be quickly and easily identified, particularly in case of a leak or emergency.
Understanding what kind of materials you're dealing with also means you can segregate chemicals that should not be stored together. They may seem safe when they’re in the drums, but a leak of two chemicals could produce disastrous results (see Making Sense of Hazard Communication to learn more).
3. Ensure the Planned Storage System is Appropriate
Federal codes require that containment systems have sufficient capacity to contain 10 percent of the total volume of the containers, or the volume of the largest container – whichever is greater. For example, if you plan to store eight 55-gallon drums, you’ll need 55 gallons of containment capacity (since the volume of one container is more than 10 percent of the total volume). This helps prevent damage to the building or to workers in case of a leak.
In addition, it’s important to make sure that the chemical drums will be kept in well-ventilated areas that are away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight. Storage areas that are temperature controlled are ideal for hazardous substances.
4. Use Sturdy Storage Racks
There are hundreds of gallons of hazardous substances in your drums, which represents a huge weight on your storage racks. It’s critical to ensure the shelving in your chemical storage unit is able to safely hold this weight.
5. Have an Emergency Response Plan
While just one 55-gallon drum may be manageable in case of an accident, it’s likely that you’re storing more than that. Storing such a high volume of chemicals necessitates a thorough emergency response plan, which should include containment, evacuation protocol, and clean up. All staff should have a good understanding of the plan.
6. Restrict Access to the Chemical Storage Area
Your workers should be trained to deal with large volumes of chemicals – but that doesn’t mean they should all have access to them. Restricting access to the chemical storage area lessens the risk of an incident occurring and protects your workers.
For the most part, storing chemicals in drums requires taking standard chemical safety precautions. But given the large volume of chemicals contained in the drums, it’s prudent to take some additional steps to ensure the safety of both your building and your employees.
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