Addressing Proper Chemical Safety and Storage Can Prevent Deadly Accidents

Chemical Inventory Management

chemical safety
Following correct chemical safety protocols can ensure that companies prevent deadly accidents from happening.
Image source: Flickr CC user Eric Shea

Last August, a warehouse explosion took place in the Chinese city of Tianjin. The tragedy claimed the lives of 165 people and injured almost 800 more.1 In addition to the loss of life and property, the incident had other far-reaching effects. Because Tianjin is a port city, ships scheduled to dock had to be rerouted after the explosion. As a result, sites within a 10-mile radius faced a supply chain disruption. Estimates claim that the economic impact of the accident could potentially reach $8 billion.2

So what exactly caused the explosion? An initial investigation pointed to widespread corruption and bribery that contributed to the improper storage of hazardous materials in close proximity to residential areas. Unfortunately, a recent Chinese probe revealed the chemical safety failures went even further. The warehouse in question stored large amounts of nitrocellulose. Nitrocellulose typically needs humidifying agents for proper storage, but a loss of these agents led to the material becoming too dry during the hot Chinese summer. When the nitrocellulose caught fire, it spread easily to reach the facility’s inventory of ammonium nitrate. If you think ammonium nitrate sounds familiar, there’s a reason. It was the hazardous chemical that caused the West Fertilizer Company explosion of 2013.

To make matters worse, ammonium nitrate wasn’t just stored improperly in the Tianjin warehouse. It was never meant to be there in the first place. The facility’s inventory was illegal. Because of this complete lapse of chemical safety enforcement, emergency responders were woefully unprepared to deal with the material. Of the 165 people who died as a result of the explosion, 99 were firefighters.

Chemical Safety Enforcement and Supervision are Necessary to Stop Dangerous Accidents

The sad truth about the Tianjin explosion is that it could have been prevented. Unfortunately, officials ignored basic chemical safety precautions. Unlicensed storage of hazardous materials. Failure to follow proper zoning requirements. Even the amounts of stored chemicals were found to be in excess. As hard as it is to admit, the accident was bound to happen sooner or later due to the carelessness of the parties involved.

Companies can’t ignore basic safety requirements. As we can see from the Tianjin explosion, failure to establish chemical safety procedures and enforce them with proper supervision can lead to disaster. The recent Chinese probe implicated 123 people as being responsible for disaster—49 of whom have already been detained.3 In the United States, we tend to associate these types of tragedies with litigation and fines, but can you imagine the backlash against a company if criminal charges were involved? No organization needs that type of publicity.

Adopting a chemical management system is the first step in establishing proper safety procedures. Having such a system in place can streamline many safety tasks:

  • Chemical inventory: By tracking what hazardous materials are stored in your facility, you can remain aware of how much is available onsite and where. Is the amount excessive? Is it stored in a proper location with the necessary safeguards?
  • Safety data sheets: By linking safety data sheets to chemical inventory, facility employees can access necessary information regarding handling, storage and disposal at any time. For example, they can look up whether it’s safe to store two different chemicals together or if they need to be placed in separate cabinets or areas.
  • Hazard communication: By storing all chemical-related information in a centralized location, emergency responders can remain informed of what hazardous materials are located on site and what precautions they need to take to minimize potential dangers in terms of property and health.

We can only hope that the government investigation and subsequent arrests will prevent another tragedy of this magnitude in China. In the meantime, other companies can learn from the lapses in proper chemical safety and apply these lessons to their own organizations.

BIOVIA CISPro is a centralized, cloud-based chemical management system that supports your organization’s chemical inventory procedures. Both small and large companies can benefit from its customizable features that include real-time chemical inventory and integrated safety data sheets. By streamlining chemical management workflows, it makes supervision and regulatory compliance easier. And in the instance of an emergency situation, first responders can access crucial information in an instant. If your company is interested in a tool that can help its chemical safety procedures, then please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA CISPro or request a demo.

  1. “China Probe Says Stored Chemical Caused Tianjin Blasts,” February 5, 2016,
  2. “Six months on from the Tianjin explosion: what are the three steps to supply chain resiliency?” February 8, 2016,
  3. “Government probe of Tianjin explosion finds 123 responsible for disaster,” February 5, 2016,

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