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In my line of work, chemicals are something we come across on a day to day basis and are more often than not one of the hazards that our clients have to Risk Assess. This week, is a guest blog week so we have invited Safety Storage Systems to tell us more about the top causes of chemical accidents in the workplace, and how organisations can avoid these types of incidents.


“According to the UK Government Health and Safety Executive, there were 70,116 injuries to employees in 2016/17. Accidents involving hazardous chemicals pose a particular threat, not just to employees but also to contractors and safety responders. Any organisation that handles chemical storage should be aware of the most common reasons for accidents, and have the appropriate plans in place to respond.


There are 4 main causes of chemical accidents in the workplace:


  1. Human error or unauthorised access

Even when the precautions and safety procedures are in place, it is almost impossible to design human error out of the equation. Workers may ignore safety procedures or warnings, take short cuts, or use improper tools to work on equipment, which creates a safety hazard through damaging machinery. Where chemical storage is concerned, however, there is simply no leeway for loose interpretation of safety procedures.


The most effective solution to enable safe chemical storage is to establish a restricted area with access only for trained, authorised personnel. Chemical mishandling is the single largest contributing factor to chemical accidents, so it is the responsibility of the business to ensure that only those with the knowledge and clearance to handle chemicals have access to the chemical storage area.


  1. Inadequate or outdated training

When personnel are not adequately trained in handling, storing and using chemicals, accidents will occur. All staff, including cleaning and maintenance staff and contractors, should be fully trained in the potential hazards and risks of stored chemicals, have access to safety data sheets, and be fully notified of any planned future changes in chemical storage arrangements.


Any chemical storage businesses should have written plans in place on how to deal with a spill in an emergency, whether the spill involves toxic/corrosive chemicals or otherwise benign products that present a risk of mechanical injury.


Training should equip staff to:


  1. Identify the spill, to establish if it is flammable, corrosive, oil, solvent, explosive, or combustible.
  2. Notify a designated supervisor or sound an alarm.
  3. Select the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for the spill.
  4. Recover injured employees within the spill zone according to rescue drills.
  5. Contain the spill with absorbent or non-absorbent dikes, drain seals, or spill kits.
  6. Stop the source, with the right tools, and transfer chemicals to spare tanks or containers.
  7. Clean up the spill, working from the perimeter to the source, and placing damaged containers on spill decks or spill trays.
  8. Decontaminate the area.
  9. Process the necessary paperwork.


  1. Faulty or inappropriate equipment

While properly trained staff can mitigate the risks of a chemical spill, they would find themselves powerless without adequate equipment to do so. Poorly maintained or inappropriate chemical storage units, spill kits, or containment barriers can exacerbate spills, and even lead to fires or explosions.


Minor spillages can become major incidents in the absence of secondary containment or spill kits, or where there is no available area to transfer chemicals into smaller containers. In order to deal quickly and effectively with hazardous spills, a chemical storage facility should be equipped with:


  • Containment barrier fitted across doorways and access points. This creates a liquid tight seal to stops the spill from spreading towards drains or outdoors.
  • Spill trays and pallets to provide a safety net around containers.
  • Bunded chemical stores for storing IBCs.
  • A supply of reusable drain seals to stop contamination of storm water drains.


  1. Unclear or untested safety procedures

Ultimately, the responsibility to manage hazardous chemicals rests with the organisation, not the employee. Management must ensure that the proper safety procedures and risk assessments are in place, and that these are reviewed and updated regularly.


Problems occur when there is insufficient hazard review or process hazard analysis, when equipment is poorly installed or maintained, or where instrumentation does not allow operators to clearly identify process conditions.


A rigorous health surveillance strategy should focus on three key areas:

  • Identify hazards
  • Assess risks
  • Control exposure


It is then up to the employer to provide the relevant information, training and consultation for each step.


Where chemical safety is concerned, organisations will do better to employ a ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ approach to chemical spills. Preparation and prevention are key – understanding and communicating the risks, putting tested procedures and equipment in place to deal with emergencies, and training employees regularly to eliminate human error.”




Thanks to this week’s guest bloggers Safety Storage Systems leading U.K. manufacturer of chemical storage solutions. They manufacture a large range of chemical storage units, and also specialise in the design and build of customised chemical storage solutions. For more information, get in touch with their expert team.


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