Tips for Handling and Storing Chemical Drums
Taking these low-cost precautions can help you avoid clean-up and compensation costs.
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Hundreds of industries use chemicals at some point during their production processes. Some of these chemical users are obvious – massive amounts of chemicals are used in plastic and rubber production and to refine oil and natural gas. But even industries that use only moderate amounts of chemicals need safe handling processes and secure storage options.
No matter what industry your company is operating in, you will need to purchase and set up safe and secure chemical drums on site.
Most chemical drums are made either of steel or plastic. And while there are some variations in the drums, almost all of the ones in the United States hold 55 gallons of liquid or powdered material.
Given that the materials stored in these drums may be toxic to the environment or hazardous to individuals who come into contact with them, it is important to adopt different protective safety measures. Some of these safety measures are stipulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Others are left at the discretion of the individual companies that store chemical drums on their site. Unfortunately, this opens things up to confusion and ultimately leaves many business owners wondering what they should do to keep their chemical drums, their workers, and the environment as safe as possible.
Below are numerous suggestions that are easy to implement.
Safely Handling and Storing Drums
Clearly Label the Drums
One of the most important steps you can take is clearly labeling storage containers so that anyone can easily find out what's inside them. These labels should both name the chemical and indicate its potential flammability.
Each year, industrial fires result in close to $1 billion in damages, according to the National Fire Protection Association, along with numerous deaths and serious injuries. Chemical fires can be particularly devastating, so ensuring that every worker knows what they're handling is of the utmost importance.
Hold Regular Inspections
Another important step is having the drums regularly inspected by qualified staff members. Although chemical drums are increasingly made out of state-of-the-art metals and plastics, they are not error-proof. Drums may leak, and the metal they are made out of can corrode over time.
Regular inspections can identify problems before they become serious, and allow you to stop a leak before it becomes an emergency. Simple, regularly scheduled visual inspections are a low cost solution that can save you large sums of money in clean-up costs.
Establish Well-Defined Procedures
Diligence is essential when working with high-risk materials. Make sure that the procedures for transporting chemical drums, transferring chemicals in and out of the drums, and responding to a corroded or corrupted drum are clearly laid out and don't rely on the worker's judgment to ensure that the tasks are done safely. The procedures should specify proper handling technique, including any equipment that may be needed, and the required PPE for handlers. Getting help from outside experts is a good way to ensure that nothing important is left out of these protocols.
Be sure to also set up designated storage areas. Don't leave your employees guessing at where the best spot for the drums are. Clearly label a safe storage location. Choose a space that allows for easy inspection and where a leak would have minimal impact on individuals or the environment. Consider using specially designed drum storage cabinets to contain the drums and protect their integrity.
Set up an Emergency Response Plan
Any company with chemical drums on site needs a well-articulated emergency response program to deal with any problem if and when it occurs. Ideally, this response plan will never have to be put into action. But no one facing a chemical leak should be left to scramble trying to figure out what to do.
Establishing a plan is just the first step. The plan should then be reviewed and tested, ideally every year. Look for potential challenges that the plan doesn't currently address and update it accordingly.
Depending on your industry and the types of chemicals stored on your facility, some aspects of the emergency plan will already be dictated by regulators like OSHA and the EPA. However, these guidelines should be seen as minimums, and it may be worthwhile to go beyond them and thoroughly ensure the safety of your workers.
Mitigating the Risks
Chemicals are here to stay. We can't realistically eliminate them from the production chain. But we can treat them like the hazardous materials they are and take every reasonable step to protection the health and safety of our workers. Following the advice in this article will get you on your way to mitigating the risks of using and storing chemicals in your facility.