Best Practices to Limit Risks When Moving Heavy Chemicals

Best practices to limit risks when moving heavy chemicals

Safety and efficacy using drum handling equipment.

There are many job types that entail potential danger through the necessary handling of objects and materials. Anyone working in a warehouse setting understands the threat of crushing if objects fall from shelves or if they are not properly loaded onto moving cargo vehicles and equipment, just for example.

However, some jobs entail these risks and more because of the substances involved, particularly dangerous or toxic chemicals, and specifically in bulky and/or heavy storage containers. These items are potentially harmful just sitting still, but the possible dangers can increase significantly when they are moved.

There is, of course, a potential crushing risk associated with handling heavy drums filled with chemicals.  However, should they be pierced, dropped, or otherwise exposed to the atmosphere or other chemicals, workers could be subject to harm and facilities could be damaged in the process. In other words, it's best to understand risks and take all possible safety precautions when moving chemicals, especially in heavy storage containers.

Naturally, you don't want to determine proper procedures through trial and error as this could be extremely detrimental to the health and safety of workers and the integrity of your facilities and your organization. Instead, you should follow applicable laws, industry standards, and common sense. Here are just a few guidelines to follow when it comes to limiting the risks associated with moving heavy chemicals.

Understand Applicable Safety Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rules and regulations in place regarding the safe and proper moving, storage, and handling of chemicals.  These range from general guidelines to very specific rules for particular chemicals. You need to understand applicable laws so that you can ensure compliance, train employees, and maintain a safe work environment at all times.

Consider Size and Weight Limitations

Even if you are legally able to utilize storage containers up to a certain size, weight, or volume, just for example, you can always choose to use smaller containers for the purposes of reducing potential hazards when moving and storing large, heavy, or cumbersome chemical containers. This can significantly reduce the risks associated with manual handling of chemicals in the moving process, including loading and unloading, as well as storage and movement within your facility.

Provide Protective Gear and Safety Equipment

Even if you decide to limit the size and weight of storage containers, there are still risk involved with moving chemicals. For this reason, you must provide necessary protective gear (or require employees to purchase their own, with potential for reimbursement), as well as safety equipment.

Such items could include personal protective gear like work boots, gloves, goggles, aprons, or even hazmat suits, as well as emergency equipment like sinks and showers, doorway spill barriers, and fire extinguishers rated for chemical use. You must also consider the safety and efficacy of moving equipment, from drum handling equipment, to motorized carts or forklifts.

Develop and Train in Proper Handling Procedures

The tools are only as safe and reliable as the people using them.  Having proper safety gear and equipment on hand is a moot point if your workers don't use them, or use them incorrectly. Training is the second, and perhaps more important part of the safety equation.

To a large extent you can follow OSHA guidelines and industry standards when it comes to safe handling procedures.  However, you'll no doubt have some specific inclusions of your own that pertain to your particular operation. When employees are made aware of safety procedures, properly trained, and forewarned of consequences for failure to comply, you have the best opportunity to avoid damage and harm when moving heavy chemicals.

Storage Considerations

Chemical containers have to go somewhere when they are loaded, unloaded, and moved around your facility.  You should create safe and appropriate staging areas, pathways for movement, and short-term and long-term storage solutions. These should be easily accessible and designed for safety when moving and storing chemical containers, and they should be set up to account for potential spills, leaks, or other moving hazards.

Consult with Health and Safety Experts

There are many resources to help you set up your facilities for safe moving and storage of chemicals, as well as create safe handling procedures. If you feel you need more help, you can always consult with health and safety organizations like OSHA or with independent contractors.