That safety is a prerequisite across the entire supply chain is a given. But there are certain segments of the supply chain where safety is not just a must, it is extremely elaborate and complex – as is the case with chemical warehousing.
The safety principle underlines the entire lifecycle of the chemical warehouse, right from its conception to its daily operations. Safety considerations need to be integrated into the design and the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) hazard class needs to be followed to guide hazardous product storage and handle any untoward situation judiciously.
However, going beyond the design and policies there are certain safety best practices which if followed can secure the safety of those who interact with chemicals the most – the warehouse team.
a) Offer training and resources: When it comes to handling chemicals, one should always assume that warehouse employees may not know what to do to prevent or respond to chemical spills. All new employees should be trained on the SOPs covering a variety of chemicals. Additionally, a visual reminder of the SOPs, which is always on hand, is always useful.
b) Label everything clearly: Following a simple procedure of labelling all items meticulously can go a long way in saving lives. After all chemicals often look alike, even to an expert. The chemical hazards should be clearly stated on the exterior of the container to prevent accidents due to mixing incorrect substances or improper disposal. Moreover, material safety data sheets (MSDS) should be easily accessible in a clearly labelled location for employees for to consult prior to working with any chemicals. These sheets give information on hazards and safety procedures for the safe handling of the material.
c) Location: The location of all chemicals should be regularly assessed to ensure the containers of chemicals should not sit near other chemicals they could adversely react with. Also, allowing for appropriate ventilation and drainage in the event of a container breach is a must, as it ensures the air quality is maintained. Further, exhaust vents in a work area might be required depending on the chemicals used.
d) Safety Check Emergency Equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require emergency equipment to be on hand and functioning in buildings that store or handle chemicals. An emergency eyewash could prevent blindness in employees who get chemicals in their eyes. A working and recently inspected fire extinguisher stops small fires from becoming larger. On-site firefighters may require firefighting equipment, such as water sources and hoses, which should be made easily available to them.
e) Cleanliness is Next to Safety. Keeping workstations clean and organized goes a long way in preventing accidents. Wet floors promote falls. Cluttered work areas encourage inadvertent spills or mixing. To reduce clutter, keep excess chemicals in their original containers until needed. Give workers a disposal area near their workstations to safely get rid of used chemicals. Employees must also have access to a place to leave work clothes at the facility. Washing machines at work prevent workers from taking home potentially contaminated clothes for cleaning. Employees must always be instructed to change clothes before leaving the facility to avoid exposing their families to chemicals from the facility.
f) Keep Safety Gear in Sight. To keep employees away from chemical exposure, safety gear needs to be worn when in the area. Since exposure to chemicals can occur when safety gear is neglected, all employees should be well informed about the location of goggles, respirators, and gloves. Encourage workers to use the equipment every time they enter a workspace. Making it easier to access safety equipment will ensure it is actually used. Further, the employees should be trained to carefully inspect the safety equipment and any pieces with signs of excessive wear or damage should be discarded. Compromised equipment puts safety at risk.
g) Designate a Location for Food and Drink. Eating and drinking around the work area should be forbidden to prevent employees from accidentally ingesting chemicals. In fact the cafeteria and recreation area should be located far from the chemical storage area. Near this spot, employees should have ready access to sinks and soap for handwashing before eating or drinking. This washes off any possible chemical residue from the hands and can prevent accidental ingestion. Prohibiting any food or drinks near the work area is the easiest way to prevent contamination of either the chemicals or the food.
h) Create a Chain of Responsibility. A clearly outlined chain of command should be in place to respond in the event of an emergency. Employees at each level of the hierarchy should work each shift. Each and every individual working in the warehouse should know whom they should report to if an accident occurs. This requires planning to avoid a situation in which the concerned personnel are not available at work. Have a list of alternates as substitutes should someone fall sick.
i) Practice: Practicing safety procedures for emergencies – fire drills and chemical spill drills will keep the team alert and agile, enabling correct action. Consequently, when an emergency does arise, the employees will know their roles and functions to mitigate harm to themselves and the facility.
When it comes to chemical warehousing there are various aspects to safety one must consider. Above all one must always remember that safety is not just the goal but a process and a habit that needs to be ingrained in the daily practices of all who work at the chemical warehouse.
V. Raju is a logistics and supply chain veteran who is currently the Senior Vice President – CL – Chemical, Pharma & Food Sector, at Allcargo’s contract logistics division.