The correct storage of chemicals in educational institutions such as schools and universities is a matter of urgent concern. During 2016 alone, military bomb disposal units were required to carry out controlled explosions in seven schools across England and two schools in Wales as a result of incorrect chemical storage and handling. Thankfully, no serious injuries or fatalities occurred as a result of any of these incidents. However, the level of serious incidents every year in U.K. schools and universities demonstrates that improved awareness of safe chemical storage is a pressing issue that needs to be promptly addressed.
To mitigate the risk of potentially dangerous chemical incidents occurring, schools and universities need to ensure they implement the necessary policies, guidelines, and procedures regarding chemical storage safety.
Prevention of Leaks, Spills and Breakages
One of the fundamentals of the correct storage of hazardous chemicals is minimizing the risk of spills, leaks, and breakages by:
Using Secondary Spill Containment.
Secondary containment helps to stop spills and leaks of hazardous chemicals at the source before they can cause further damage. Correct secondary containment means using spill trays and bunds with a volume of 110% of the largest container being stored. So if the largest container holds 2 litres, use a spill tray or bund with a minimum volume of 2.2 litres.
Choosing a Sensible Storage Position
Chemical containers should never be stored on the floor because of the increased risk of accidental damage or knocking the containers over. Chemical storage cabinets provide a safe way to store chemicals, but the position of the stored chemicals in the cabinet requires consideration. It is prudent to store large containers on the bottom shelves and to avoid stacking containers.
Ensuring Decanted Solutions Are Stored Correctly
Special considerations need to be made when storing decanted solutions. Enough room should be left in containers carrying decanted solutions to account for any possible expansion of the contents and the associated spillage that could occur from overflowing.
Transporting Chemical Containers Properly
When hazardous chemicals need to be used to conduct laboratory experiments, appropriate precautions need to be taken to avoid spills while transferring the chemical containers from storage to the point of use. One of the most important chemical storage requirements in schools and universities is the use of appropriate trolleys during transfer to lessen the impact of any spills.
Information on Hazards and Their Classification
Correct and safe chemical storage in schools and universities begins with educating all parties on the hazards posed by chemical substances. Hazard information can be provided in various ways, including:
Suppliers of hazardous chemicals to educational and commercial institutions are required to include a safety data sheet that gives information about chemicals such as the hazards that they present, the correct way to store and handle these chemicals, and emergency procedures to follow in the event of a spillage or other accident.
All chemical containers come with embossed labels that outline the relevant hazards that are associated with a given chemical in addition to the supplier’s contact details.
If the safety data sheet has been lost or the container label is illegible, this online resource provides an inventory of chemical substances and information on their hazards.
Hazard Warning Signs
All schools and universities should display hazard warning signs in places where potential chemical hazards are present, such as laboratories and chemical storage rooms. The following categories of hazard warning sign need to be used depending on the chemicals present:
- General hazard warning.
- Flammable materials (solids and liquids).
- Explosive substances
- Oxidising substances
- Corrosive substances
- Toxic substances
- Cryogenic liquids
Using Appropriate Chemical Storage Cabinets
Chemical storage cabinets need to be appropriate for the type of chemicals stored in them. Safe storage of flammable chemicals means using metal cabinets with at least 30 minutes of fire resistance.
Acid resistant cabinets are pivotal for correctly storing corrosive substances—cabinet shelves should be resistant to corrosion from acids, and it is prudent to avoid high shelves when storing acidic substances.
Temperature controlled storage units used to store chemicals at a specific temperature should never be used for other purposes than chemical storage.
Monitoring and Inspection
Safe storage of hazardous chemicals involves implementing controls to monitor conditions in environments containing potentially dangerous chemicals. Appropriate monitors to measure the oxygen in the air should be installed, along with alarms to alert people when conditions become dangerous.
Prudent chemical storage procedures include maintaining a regular inspection schedule of once every six months at a minimum. The storage area should be examined by a maintenance team for general storage standards in addition to inspecting the condition of chemical containers and the actual chemicals. Damaged or worn containers need to be replaced and deteriorated chemicals disposed of.
Roles and Responsibilities
The various staff members and students in a school or university have certain roles and responsibilities when it comes to storing chemicals.
Heads of Schools/Services have the responsibility to ensure that procedures are in place to manage and mitigate the risks associated with incorrect chemical storage. Heads of School/Services should also proactively monitor current chemical storage methods and correct any inadequacies.
Line Managers need to ensure correct assessment of the hazards posed by the chemicals they are responsible for. Particular responsibility lies in ensuring chemicals are stored in the correct containers, and implementing rigid control measures for particularly unstable chemicals by establishing a shelf life for chemicals and ensuring a documented inspection is carried out at appropriate intervals.
Staff and students who work with chemicals in an educational environment need to comply with safety measures, and they also bear the responsibility to report any defective equipment/chemicals, or other issues with facilities used for chemical storage.
If you wish to to find out more about best practices regarding safe storage of chemicals, read the Safety Storage Systems blog. Our expert team also welcome you to get in touch to discuss any queries you have regarding chemical storage for schools and universities.