HAZCHEM Safety: Transferring hazardous chemicals

Feb 20, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

An employee was disconnecting a hose from a bulk tanker after unloading sulphuric acid. The line from the bulk tank was still pressurised, so when the hose was disconnected from the secondary container acid sprayed up over his arms, chest, and neck. He was wearing chemical resistant sleeves but still suffered chemical burns to his neck and upper arms.

Chemical transfer and decanting stations can be one of the most dangerous areas on the job site, especially if chemicals are not fully enclosed as they are transferred from one container or tank to another. Workers can be exposed to chemical vapours and fumes and are also vulnerable to splashes and spillage. At the same time flammable and reactive chemicals can ignite or explode from even the smallest spark of static electricity. This blog looks at some the ways to minimise risk when decanting and transferring hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods.

Reducing risks during transfer operations

Minimising risk at your chemical decanting and transfer stations will require a risk assessment which evaluates:

  • Location of the decanting station in relation to production areas, chemical stores, and work activities that could create an ignition source eg, welding or grinding.

  • How to reduce chemical vapours and fumes.

  • Splashing and turbulence of liquids in the secondary container which can create static electricity if  the container is not properly grounded.

  • Installation and maintenance of flow and pressure regulators.

  • Transfer fittings and their compatibility to the chemicals as well as the connections between storage/receiving vessels.

  • Overflow protection on transfer equipment and containers to prevent dangerous spills and wastage.

  • Emergency shut-offs which can be activated to limit the release of the chemicals.

  • The procedures for bonding metal storage and receiving containers together before dispensing.

  • Personal Protective Equipment recommended on the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and its suitability for your work environment.

  • Competency of staff and supervisors and the level of supervision required to ensure staff are following procedures and using PPE correctly.

  • How to restrict the area from unauthorised staff, workers, contractors, and site visitors.

WORKPLACE EXAMPLE: A worker was was transferring corrosive chemicals from a bulk tank to a daily tank. Due to a processing error the secondary tank overflowed and the chemical spilled on the floor. The worker slipped and fell into the spilled chemicals and suffered burns to the hips, legs and feet.

Containing chemical spillage

Unless you have a fully enclosed transfer system, chemical spills are inevitable. Invest in high quality bunding and implement good housekeeping procedures. We recommend the following best practices for your chemical dispensing areas:

  • Don’t allow any untrained person to decant fuel at any time.

  • Use proper equipment (manufactured to Australian Safety Standards) when transferring chemicals: including drum cradles, funnels, trolleys, spill bunds.

  • Never free pour chemicals, if possible use a funnel or pump.

  • Make sure transfer equipment is made from heavy duty, corrosion resistant materials, that is compatible with the chemicals.

  • Ensure workers are using appropriate PPE eg, chemical resistant gloves, safety boots, respiratory protection, eye guards, aprons, coveralls.

  • Stabilise the the base container using a drum cradle or caddy before decanting.

  • Stop dispensing before the secondary container becomes too full and overflows.

  • Use drip trays, pans and bunding products under dispensing containers.

  • Don’t dispense in an area where spilled chemical could be absorbed by soil or get into waterways. Create a stable dispensing station with an impervious base.

  • Recap and seal containers immediately after transfer is complete.

  • Have spill kits on hand and clean up spillage immediately.

WORKPLACE EXAMPLE: A supervisor was inspecting pallets loaded for shipment and slipped on spilled sodium hydroxide which had not been cleaned up. He was hospitalised and suffered 3rd and 4th degree chemical burns.

Installing safety showers

Installing a safety shower and eyewash station within 10 metres of your chemical transfer station is a WHS essential if you are carrying flammable liquids and any type of toxic or corrosive chemicals. Always check the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and liaise with suppliers for details of the requirements but as a minimum the installation should be:

  • Able to be accessed by injured staff within 10 seconds of exposure/contamination.

  • Plumbed into a stable and safe water supply that can deliver water at a consistent pressure for at least 15 minutes.

  • Activated by a single foot or hand action, then keeps the valve open until shut off intentionally.

  • Highly visible via the colouring of the unit and high-vis signage.

IMPORTANT: You may need to install more than one emergency shower or eyewash station if the chemical dispensing station is accessed by a group of workers.  

Next steps

Your chemical decanting and transfer stations are potentially one of the most hazardous areas at the  worksite. We recommend using our tested risk management methodology to identify and assess the chemical hazards and risks present in your decanting areas. Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to get started. Read it today by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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