Need to Know OSHA Regulations for Hazardous Materials Storage

Chemical storage, particularly when you're talking about bulk quantities or in an industrial context, is a rather delicate enterprise.

Consequence For Not Doing it the Right Way Can Be Severe

Chemical storage, particularly when you're talking about bulk quantities or in an industrial context, is a rather delicate enterprise. The consequence for not doing it the right way can be severe legally, financially, environmentally, and certainly from the standpoint of health and safety. Government at the municipal, state, and federal levels have guidelines, regulations, and protocols that need to be followed to ensure legal compliance and, ideally, the safest possible approach to storing hazardous materials.

In particular, the United States Department of Labor has a set of standards that all operations storing large quantities of hazardous materials are well advised to follow, purveyed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Below is an overview of the OSHA and its regulations.


The Purpose of OSHA Regulations

In 1995 the EPA handled roughly 277 million metric tons of hazardous wastes. Ensuring that hazardous waste is properly handled, stored, transported, and disposed of has become a major priority of the United States government...and, yes, for good reason. Handled improperly, hazardous waste will lead to the poisoning of the environment, the killing of different ecosystems and animal species, as well as the poisoning of different human communities and potential loss of life. Seeing to it that such materials are properly cared for is a major environmental, economic, health, and ethical concern.


OSHA was formed back in 1989 for these reasons. The regulations OSHA issues cover state, county and municipal employees, including police officers, firefighters, as well as ambulance workers in 25 states with their own OSHA approved plans, and in 25 states with a plan drawn up directly by the department. As one can readily see, the breadth of the agency's responsibility is wide.


What OSHA Covers

The OSHA regulatory standards cover a broad scope of activities, particularly cleanup operations taking place in uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, and also at EPA licensed treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facilities. It also sets forth rules for workers dealing with emergencies with hazardous wastes, such as tanker truck spills or floods of chemical storage facilities.


Employers who store and handle substantial hazard materials must provide OSHA with a written plan detailing its methods for ensuring health and safety. They must show, in clear detail, a program for information and training, for medical surveillance, for personal protective equipment, site and evaluation control, monitoring, decontamination procedures, and emergency response; and all in a way that is site specific. Compliance with OSHA requires a substantial level of detail and precision.

Firstly, employers must submit a work plan that provides an overview of the general strategy for compliance with the OSHA standards. It has to include a breakdown of the site's chain of command, including the exact responsibilities of supervisors, and employees, as well as their means of communication. The names of the persons responsible for hazardous waste operations and chemical storage and the person responsible for the development and execution of site safety and health programs must be reported. Nothing can be based on an abstract notion of accountability; OSHA standards ensure that, if something goes wrong, they can identify not only the mechanism that may have failed, but the personnel to be held responsible as well.


Site Evaluation and Control

After reviewing a work plan, OSHA must evaluate the employer program for site evaluation and control. The program requirements in this area are also comprehensive, and must be repeatedly submitted on a periodic basis. The evaluation is meant to give employers an understanding of the potential hazard areas so that they may choose appropriate protections for the workers on site.


The OSHA standard requires that an expert execute a preliminary evaluation of the worksite before the site can become operational. This must include an accounting of all the circumstances that may pose a danger to all of the people working on location, such as entry through a confined space, potentially flammable scenarios, and the exposure of dangerous fumes or vapors.

Beyond these items, the evaluation has to give a geographic accounting of the site. This includes information on topography, size and area, its accessibility by the road and by air, as well as a description of the pathways that allow for the safe escape of hazardous materials.

These are some of the elements of hazardous waste management regulated by the OSHA standards. It is a comprehensive system meant to minimize the ever present risks of disaster when deal with such volatile substances...important information to be aware of.