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Overview

published on

February 2024

The global economy relies on many volatile or hazardous chemicals for production and manufacturing. Petrochemicals, polymers, rubber, agrochemicals, and more are needed to maintain complex chains of goods flowing around the world. Industrial worksites often use, store, and dispose of these chemicals to create products from raw materials.

In dealing with these inherently dangerous substances, industrial plant workers and visitors must be protected through a combination of safety practices, equipment, and planning. In this article, we’ll overview the vital importance of proper chemical process safety, then cover five safety tips and standards for engineers and managers to implement at their facilities.

The Importance of Chemical Safety in Industrial Work Environments

In industrial work environments, such as production, manufacturing, and refining facilities, chemical safety is a chief concern for worksite owners, supervisors, and front-line workers alike. Depending on the industry, plant, and environment, flammable and toxic chemicals may be used for manufacturing processes or other needs.

Though industrial chemicals serve a variety of important purposes, handling and utilizing those chemicals introduces unique safety challenges and risks that can impact workers, the environment, and the public. For example, improper handling of flammable or toxic chemicals may lead to negative environmental effects or public health concerns.

In addition, improper chemical process safety can increase the risk of injuries to workers who handle or work around dangerous substances. Potential chemical-related employee injuries in industrial work environments include:

  • Chemical burns
  • Toxic impacts
  • Fire and explosion injuries
  • Respiratory injuries
  • And more

Many accidents or hazards arise due to a handful of root causes, such as human errors, improper training, or a lack of proper process safety procedures. By identifying and practicing strong process safety management in the chemical industry, you can mitigate the risk of workplace injuries and other chemical threats to the environment, your facility, and the greater public.

Employees and visitors wearing PPE tour a petrochemical facility that meets OSHA chemical safety standards.

Key Tips for Chemical Process Safety

To practice effective process safety, chemical manufacturing and refining worksites should ensure that they follow five major steps:

  • Implement and maintain safety standards for the storage and usage of potentially hazardous chemicals
  • Require that worksite personnel undergo chemical safety training
  • Place effective engineering controls at key points in your worksite
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for both employees and facility visitors
  • Create hazard control and emergency response plans

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps individually.

1. Implement and Maintain Chemical Safety Standards for Storage, Usage, and More

Your facility doesn’t need to come up with comprehensive chemical safety standards by itself. National bodies, which include but are not limited to the American Petroleum Institute (API), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and American National Standards Institute (ANSI), have separate chemical and toxic substance standards that apply to most conceivable scenarios.

Sets of safety standards like these will provide your organization with a place to begin devising, setting, and implementing codes or procedures for your worksite personnel to follow.
For instance, here are just a few examples of helpful OSHA chemical safety standards:

  • 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z, which covers the usage and storage of general industry toxic and hazardous substances such as asbestos, vinyl chloride, lead, and more
  • 29 CFR 1915, 1917, and 1918, which overviews the proper and safe usage of toxic or hazardous substances in maritime conditions, including when handling chemicals in or around shipyards
  • 29 CFR 1926, which covers chemical hazard safety practices for the construction industry

ANSI’s chemical safety standards are broken down by chemical/substance type. This enables facilities or supervisors to select the standards that apply to their industries or processes. Here’s a handful of critical standards:

  • NFPA 2-2020 provides codes for the handling and usage of hydrogen in compressed gas or cryogenic liquid forms
  • NACE SP0273-2016 offers methods and procedures for handling and using inhibited HCl for oilfield applications
  • CHA G-15-2018 includes safety standards and practices for handling gaseous fluorine and flooring mixtures with inert gases under certain concentrations

You can download a full list of ANSI’s chemical hazard safety standards from its webstore.

An industrial chemical facility photographed at sunset. Chemical safety standards are of utmost importance at facilities like this.

2. Require Chemical Safety Training

Codes and best practices don’t result in safer worksites unless your personnel are trained to follow them. Therefore, industrial facility managers and supervisors must provide adequate training time and materials to workers. Not only does this empower worksite personnel to protect themselves from chemical-related hazards, but it also protects leadership from liability concerns.

There are many different chemical safety training materials you can utilize to ensure understanding among your workforce, such as videos, in-person training sessions, and thorough onboarding programs for new employees. BakerRisk’s Learning Center also offers comprehensive courses and training modules for supervisors and managers – ideal opportunities for new and seasoned professional interested in the latest strategies and solutions for managing risks in the chemical industry.

However, it’s critical to constantly update your training procedures and modules. As new codes are released by organizations like OSHA, ANSI, CCPS, IChemE, and BSI, and as your worksite develops best practices that work for your organization’s specific limitations, be sure to re-train site personnel to ensure consistent safety measures.

3. Place Engineering Controls

Engineering controls include any physical barriers or designs in a workplace that protect workers from specific hazards. For instance, a facility may have a room with air vents to remove hazardous airborne chemicals in the event of a leak. Those air vents are an example of an engineering control.

Protective buildings, like FORTRESS buildings, can also incorporate their own engineering controls. Each FORTRESS has a SIP control called a “Gas Sentry” that can interface with gas detectors inside and outside buildings, initiate ventilation, and more.

In these cases and more, engineering controls can positively impact plant chemical safety. Further examples of engineering controls include:

  • Interlocks
  • Noise enclosures
  • Guard rails
  • Mechanical lifting devices
  • Machinery guards
  • Automated handling devices
  • Fume hoods
  • Enclosed chemical handling chambers

Some new engineering controls could be significant investments for your organization, but they are well worth it in terms of employee, environmental, and public safety in the long run.

While engineering controls are effective – and should be utilized as keystone parts of your overall process safety plans – they should only ever be used in conjunction with training. Otherwise, employees won’t know how to make use of the engineering controls designed to protect them.

A FORTRESS Gas Sentry, system a shelter-in-place control box that acts as an engineering control in hazardous industrial environments.

4. Provide PPE for Employees and Visitors

Personal protective equipment, which can include full-body HAZMAT suits, safety goggles, and everything in between, is a crucial part of any chemical safety plan. Your facility should provide high-quality, functioning PPE for all employees and potential visitors. All PPE should be tested for safety before being distributed, and any malfunctioning, expired, or subpar PPE should be replaced as quickly as possible.

Depending on your facility and the exact chemicals you need to protect personnel against, sufficient chemical safety equipment can include:

  • Safety glasses and goggles
  • Face shields and helmets
  • Gloves, boots, and other protective clothing
  • Hearing protectors, like earplugs and earmuffs
  • Air-filtering facemasks and other respiratory protection

A person wearing full personal protective equipment carefully handles hazardous materials in an industrial setting.

5. Create Hazard Control Plans and Emergency Response Plans

The safest industrial facilities are those with hazard control and response plans already in place. To that end, you should anticipate likely threats or emergencies and ensure that site personnel know what to do in the event of possible disasters.

To accomplish this chemical safety practice, take early steps to draft, revise, and publish emergency response and/or containment plans. BakerRisk’s trained professionals can assist your worksite in analyzing possible hazards and developing defensive response plans that fit your facility and its immediate environment, all while adhering to local and federal codes.

You should additionally determine and test places for employees to shelter in place. If your facility doesn’t have adequate shelters, consider looking into solutions, such as FORTRESS Protective Buildings.

After drafting emergency response and hazard control plans, make sure that relevant personnel are trained in their steps and requirements. The better prepared your worksite’s staff is in the event of a disaster, the less likely serious injuries are to occur.

Chemical industry safety standards dictate how various chemicals are stored.

Conclusion

It’s impossible to completely remove the inherent risks of handling or using hazardous chemicals and toxic substances. But with the right chemical safety practices, your facility can be as safe as possible, and you can do your part to ensure the protection of site personnel, the public, and the planet.

To learn more about proper risk management and chemical safety practices, get in touch with the experts at BakerRisk today.