Prioritizing Chemical Safety: The Importance of a Hazard Communication Standard

hazard communication standard
Chemical safety plays a crucial role in establishing a hazard communication standard, which can prevent lethal accidents and aid emergency responders.
Image source: Flickr CC user Georgia National Guard

The past few years have been filled with several highly publicized chemical safety mishaps. Between chemical spills into public water supplies and warehouse explosions that disrupt a port’s daily activities, the problems span industries and national borders. To make matters worse, it’s not so much that these disasters happen. Despite our best efforts, an accident is bound to happen sooner or later. What’s crucial in these worst-case scenarios, however, is how the involved parties handle the incident. Unfortunately, we haven’t been doing so well on that score. In many instances, the accidents reveal major hazard communication violations. What else do we call it when a company can’t tell authorities what chemicals were being stored in a particular facility? If a company can’t identify a hazardous material, how can anyone properly address the environmental and public health repercussions?

While the Tianjin explosion from last summer still lingers in our minds, it’s not the only incident of its type in recent memory. An explosion took place at a Massachusetts Dow Chemical laboratory in early January. What a terrible way to kick off the New Year! Five workers were injured in the incident, four of them seriously. The explosion was triggered when trimethylaluminum, a chemical that’s highly reactive with water and air, was mixed with water. It’s the second explosion to take place at the facility in two years.1 In 2013, another reactive chemical, trimethylindium, was exposed to air.2 Unlike the January incident, a worker died in the previous explosion.

Chemical Safety Is a Necessary Component of Handling Hazardous Materials

While the investigation into the January explosion is still ongoing, one thing remains clear: two explosions of this magnitude in as many years are unacceptable. Due to the volatility of trimethylaluminum, bomb technicians had to be called in to take care of the hazardous material. It just wasn’t the reactivity of the chemical itself that raised concerns. Proximity to other dangerous chemicals also caused worries.3 What if it caused yet another explosion or started a fire on top of that? After all, the Tianjin explosion resulted from a chain of events. Who’s to say the same couldn’t have happened here? In the aftermath, people are now looking at how chemicals are handled at the plant. Reactive chemicals like trimethylaluminum must be used inside a hood to ensure safety, so how did it mix with water?

Hazardous chemicals are a necessary component in many industries, so it’s not as if we can avoid their usage. Because of this, organizations must make sure that their employees are properly trained in chemical safety, from how to handle dangerous materials to what to do in case of a spill. In addition to training, workers should also be able to access the associated safety data sheets at any time. That way, we can guarantee that employees have the most up-to-date information when they need it most.

An Effective Hazard Communication Standard Depends on Proper Chemical Safety

The one bright side of the January laboratory explosion is that emergency responders were able to address the situation safely and without further incident. Part of this is due to the fact that the facility did know what chemicals were involved. There were no mysteries, so they could determine how to remove the chemical with minimal risk and injury.

The ability to identify the hazardous chemicals stored in a facility no matter the circumstances requires up-to-date inventory. At a glance, laboratory workers should be able to determine which chemicals are kept on-site and in what amounts. While other information such as dates of receipt and expiration are just as important, the former are the most pertinent in emergency situations when responders need to know what chemicals are involved and if there are other materials they need to be cautious of. In an ideal world, the explosion would never have happened in the first place but since it did, this is the best outcome we can expect from a chemical safety standpoint.

BIOVIA CISPro is a complete chemical inventory management system that can aid your company’s efforts to maintain high chemical safety and hazard communication standards throughout your organization. It streamlines the workflows required to track chemical inventory from receipt to disposal as well as specific locations via integrated bar code tracking. Because it’s a digital tool, the software can also link to associated safety information, so workers can easily look up proper storage, handling and disposal instructions. If your firm is looking for a solution that can manage your chemical inventory while minimizing the risks of working with hazardous materials, then please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA CISPro and request a demo.

  1. “Explosion Rocks Dow Chemical Co. Facility, Four Seriously Injured,” January 11, 2016, http://ehstoday.com/safety/explosion-rocks-dow-chemical-co-facility-four-seriously-injured
  2. “Dow Chemical blast still under investigation,” February 8, 2016, http://www.eagletribune.com/news/dow-chemical-blast-still-under-investigation/article_91181664-35d3-5951-8dcb-01592fc5e4c5.html
  3. “Volatile chemical removed from plant,” January 8, 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/08/investigators-hope-get-first-look-inside-damaged-dow-chemical-plant/2asfikvUGlHltBxkiEg9iK/story.html

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