The words "hazardous materials" (HAZMAT) are pretty much self-explanatory. A hazardous material is defined as, "any item or agent (biological, chemical, radiological, and/or physical), which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors." Hazardous materials encompass a large array of substances prevalent in most workplaces which have the ability to cause harm to people, property, and the environment. Paint, glues, heavy metals, flammable liquids, pesticides, are all hazardous materials which could pose a risk to workplaces all over the country.
The best strategy for ensuring employees are safe around hazardous materials is to be proactive in the management of these materials. Below we have identified five keys to ensuring employee safety when storing hazardous materials. Let's dive right in.
Complete an Inventory
To manage the risk of hazardous materials causing injury to employees or damage to property, the specific risks must first be identified. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in addition to state and local agencies requires business owners to comply with standards related to the storage of hazardous materials. The hazardous materials inventory list should include the product name, manufacturer's name, and their contact information. This covers the basic information that should be included in the hazardous materials list. This inventory sheet should be updated on a frequent basis; an annual review may not suffice to keep employees safe.
Location, Location, Location
Once hazardous materials have been identified and logged properly, the next step is to ensure proper storage of any materials that could pose a hazard to employees. A few tips on proper storage of hazardous materials include:
- All storage locations should have adequate ventilation and be locked at all times when not in use.
- Corrosive chemicals should be placed in a dedicated acid cabinet away from other hazardous materials
- Storage cabinets or shelving should be non-corrosive, lowering the risks of leaking corrosive materials damaging property and causing a potential leak
- Hazardous materials should never be stored by any edible products which could be consumed by employees
Many accidents related to hazardous materials have occurred due to improper storage. The few tips above should help any business ensure they lower their risk of such accidents.
Proper HAZMAT storage can only be successful if security is a top priority. Storage areas for hazardous materials should not be accessible to all employees. Only employees who require the use of hazardous materials to complete job duties, and are properly trained, should be allowed to access HAZMAT storage areas. This helps lower the risk of hazardous material accidents. Second, HAZMAT storage areas should be clearly marked with signage and kept locked at all times to prevent visitors, customers, or any unauthorized persons from entering. Without proper security, storage of hazardous materials is essentially ineffective.
Communication is Key
Business leaders must always put their employee's safety first, above profits, goals, or anything else. Employees are every business’s greatest asset. So when it comes to hazardous material storage, communication is key. OSHA's hazard communication standard was established with the purpose of ensuring the proper and comprehensive distribution of hazardous materials information to employers and employees through a comprehensive program which includes topics from proper container labeling to material safety data sheets (MSDS). Business leaders must make a concerted effort to ensure this OSHA standard is being adhered to and proper communication on hazardous materials storage is provided to keep employees safe. When it comes to employees, safety always comes first.
Hazardous materials are nothing to take lightly. They can cause severe harm to humans, property, and/or the environment if not handled properly. Business leaders have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Employee safety is the number one priority for any organization. Proper HAZMAT storage is just one part of providing a safe environment where employees remain healthy and happy for the long run. Let's protect our workers and make sure we store hazardous material in their proper place!