Workplace Chemical Storage: An Introduction to Safety Data Sheets

By following appropriate chemical storage and handling strategies, your workplace can avoid dangerous chemical leaks and the accompanying damage. As environmental consultants, we help workplaces implement sustainable waste management plans through environmental audits, ensuring that your workplace meets industry standards and understands how to prevent soil pollution and other negative environmental impacts. The best way to avoid dangerous chemical leaks, incorrect storage or unsafe handling, is to follow the directions and recommendations of safety data sheets and perform regular risk assessments of your workplace’s chemical storage.

The risks of unsafe handling and storage

Even when not in use, chemicals can pose a risk to the safety of a workplace and the environment. Dangerous chemicals can harm people’s health, damage property and leak into the soil of a worksite harming the ecosystem for years to come. Many hazardous chemicals may be present on your worksite and storing multiple chemicals in one location exacerbates this risk. If incompatible chemicals mix, perhaps due to corroded and leaking containers, they may ignite or release toxic or flammable gases. For the safety of the workplace and the environment, it is important to assess and control the risks associated with chemical storage.

The importance of safety data sheets

To work out an appropriate storage solution for the chemicals in your workplace or site, it is important to first identify the risks associated with each product. This can be done by gathering and reviewing each chemical’s safety data sheet (SDS). These documents provide all the information about the substance’s ingredients, storage procedures, emergency procedures and disposal directions and outline the chemical’s hazard class and category.

In Australia, every workplace must keep an up-to-date register of safety data sheets of all hazardous chemicals at the workplace, from highly abrasive acids to simple household dishwashing detergent. The SDS register is very important in the event of an emergency such as if an employee comes into contact with a dangerous chemical and needs first aid, or during a fire where chemicals could negatively react upon ignition. All chemical manufacturers must make safety data sheet’s available to purchasers. So, if you conduct an audit of your register and believe you are missing up to date information, contact the manufacturer.

To ensure your chemicals are accurately documented, begin by appointing a trained person to regularly review and ensure all safety data sheets are up to date and maintain your workplace’s hazardous substances/dangerous goods register. This trained person will also need to record how chemicals are managed within your workplace, for any government or environmental audits or further employee training.

Following safety data sheet recommendations

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary safety data sheets it’s time to assess the risks of the chemicals in your workplace, so that they can be appropriately controlled. When assessing the risks of the chemicals, consider the type of chemical, the quantity of the chemical, the severity of the hazards and the likelihood of an incident. The value of the safety data sheet is that it breaks chemicals into different categories depending on their severity, making it easier to distinguish the riskier “Category 1” flammable liquids from the less hazardous liquids.

The safety data sheets will also detail how to properly handle the substance, such as practices to restrict during the use of the chemical and any protective clothing requirements. It will also describe safe storage recommendations concerning temperature, ventilation and humidity, that will determine if further systems need to be in place for adequate chemical storage. For instance, Safety Data Sheets advise the recommended segregation of certain hazardous chemicals.

Some chemicals are compatible and can be stored together, but some may react dangerously when placed near each other. The recommended segregation will advise the minimum number of metres of separation or if the product should have a dedicated storage area that is isolated from all other chemicals.

Regular risk assessments and storage inspections

When assessing the safety of your storage, consider if some actions or processes could further limit the risk of certain chemicals, such as storing the chemical at a more accessible height for easy handling or placing the containers in drip pans to contain any spills. Write down the safety measures in place to reduce the risks in substance storage or handling and outline these best practices to your employees.

Safety measures could include:

  • Restricting access to chemical storage rooms
  • Distancing incompatible substances and disposing of unnecessary chemicals
  • Clearly labelling all containers and visually inspecting for leaks
  • Installing chemical suppression systems
  • Designing facilities that aim to reduce contamination
  • Cleaning up spills immediately
  • Providing washing facilities and accessible first aid
  • Providing protective clothing and equipment

There are many actions and improvements that can be implemented to reduce the risk of spills and the negative effects of soil contamination, so be sure to administer regular risk assessments and inspections of your workplace’s chemical storage for the safety of your workers and the environment.

Is your workplace in need of professional environmental advice?

If your commercial site or workplace is facing an environmental issue, our professional team is here to help. We provide environmental audits including site assessments and remediation options to ensure your business satisfies all environmental compliance. As environmental consultants in Melbourne, the team of Alpha Environmental offers professional advice regarding the chemical contamination of your commercial site’s soil and groundwater and how to navigate any environmental damage.

If you’d like to know more about our environmental audits and practical services, then please don’t hesitate to contact us by filling out our online enquiry form or by calling 1300 039 181.