Top 4 Causes of Chemical Accidents in the Workplace

26th March 2019

The level of chemical incidents in the U.K. every year are overwhelming. According to the HSE, 50% of U.K. workplaces identified chemical / biological substances as one of the biggest risks for employee safety. There have been several studies on recurring causes of recent chemical incidents to identify how and why these accidents happen so frequently. To help ensure you have implemented the best practices when it comes to chemical safety, we have outlined the top 4 causes that are regularly identified as the root of many chemical incidents.

Chart for chemical spill costs

1. Equipment failure

One of the top causes for chemical accidents in the workplace is due to the use of inappropriate equipment as it leads to equipment malfunctions. Inappropriate equipment includes chemical storage (for example, using non-flammable storage units to store flammable chemicals), mishandling of containment barriers or spill kits, and malfunctioning valves. The use of pressure relief systems in place of fully functioning valves are adequate to relive the pressure flow and therefore will results in a chemical accident.

2. Inadequate safety review/analysis

It is essential to continuously carry out risk assessment tests in your facility to ensure you are implementing the best practices to chemical safety management. A key issue in many workplaces is the total lack or absence of a solid chemical safety risk assessment process. Particularly in large scale workplace chemical accidents, investigations afterwards almost always tend to discover flaws in the chemical review and analysis procedures. Failure to regularly assess chemical safety and storage procedures meant that workplaces were more vulnerable to chemical hazards.

3. Operator error

Chemical accidents are likely to happen if an uniformed or untrained member of personnel is handling or encounters chemicals in the workplace. This is referred to as an operator error and can lead to a host of chemical safety risks not only to the operator themselves but to the entire workplace. Operator errors usually occur due to a lack of understanding or training when it comes to safely handling hazardous chemicals. Personnel are not made aware or cautioned in relation to mistakes they have made when handling or storing chemicals therefore they continue to make the same mistakes, often resulting in a chemical accident. This can be easily remedied with proper safety training, chemical management restrictions such as only allowing authorised personnel to handle chemicals or enter chemical storage areas.

4. Warnings ignored

Many large scale chemical accidents come as a result of ignoring warning signs such as smaller chemical incidents, spills or injuries. Minor chemical spills are merely cleaned up so that operations can continue without the source of the spill or leak being fully investigated or remedied, which can lead to an even larger scale chemical spill in the future. Minor chemical combustions are not properly investigated and therefore root causes such as improper chemical storage are not identified until after a major chemical explosion. These are just some of the many examples of how ignored warnings have led to significant chemical incidents.

Preventing chemical accidents in the workplace

The high level of chemical incidents in U.K. workplaces every year emphasis a real need for training and knowledge of chemical safety and chemical storage best practices. Understanding the top four causes of chemical accidents can help you to identify high risk areas in your facility and appropriate safety practices to mitigate these risks. At Safety Storage Systems we have over 20 years of experience with handing and storing hazardous chemicals. If you are concerned about the chemical storage practices in your facility, reach out to one of our experts or check out some of our other articles.

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