3. Prevention of Chemical Emergencies
Know your enemy! You cannot prevent an emergency if you know nothing about the chemicals you store or handle. You should ensure that before you bring any substance into the University you are familiar with its physical and chemical properties and incompatibilities. Basic information can be obtained from the entry for the chemical where it appears in the supplier’s catalogue, the appropriate hazard symbol is generally displayed beside the entry. Should this lead you to believe that any significant hazard may be associated with the compound then you should contact the supplier and arrange to have the Material Safety Data Sheet supplied to you. By obtaining information on the potential hazards and the properties of the compound you can avoid a situation where you have obtained a chemical and then decide that you do not have appropriate facilities, equipment or training to use it safely.
Some suppliers have developed internet accessible databases of information about their chemicals. Use of these avoids any delays associated with obtaining the Data Sheet. Other databases giving similar information are prepared by a range of organisations and some relevant links are given in the Information Sources section of this resource.
Having obtained the facts relating to the hazards of a chemical you should then carry out a risk assessment. This process is described in Section 3.2 and should, as far as possible, be a whole life risk assessment for the chemical including storage, handling and transport to the area of use, the procedure(s) in which it is to be used, compounds that are output from the procedure, the hazards of any waste that is produced, storage and disposal of waste. The risk assessment process should comply with the requirements of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and should consider unplanned incidents such as accidental spillage. DSEAR deals with chemicals that can cause, or be involved in, physical harm such as fire, explosion or runaway reactions.
COSHH deals with chemicals that can cause, or be involved in, harm to health (as a result of properties such as toxicity, carcinogenicity, asthmagenicity). The risk assessment should address any significant issues that may arise from other incidents such as fire, flood, explosion, heating or ventilation failure and security issues. [Further information on DSEAR and COSHH]
The Head of Department should ensure that a pre-order risk assessment procedure is developed and operated in order to ensure that the hazards of chemicals are identified and considered prior to receiving them into the department and to ensure that they are safety delivered. It is possible that the outcome of such an assessment is a decision that the chemical should NOT be brought into the department.
During the pre-order risk assessment a set of procedures and mechanisms of control should be devised to ensure that the chemical is stored in an appropriate way. Section 3.1 considers mechanisms of control in more detail.
The Head of Department should ensure that, prior to the chemical being used, a detailed risk assessment is carried out relating to its use in all work activities (including its transport within the department). Further information on risk assessment can be found in Section 3.2. In addition, formal procedures should be developed to identify individuals or groups who require to be informed about the presence of such chemicals and for the communication of the hazards and risks associated with it.
Mechanisms and a timetable for the review of procedures should also be developed and instituted to ensure continuing relevance
Although the risk assessment should be carried out by whoever intends to use the chemical there may be cases where the same procedure is carried out by several individuals. It may be prudent in these situations for the risk assessment to be carried out by a single individual and then communicated, including the necessary controls and working practices that have been identified as a result of the assessment, to others (e.g. in teaching laboratories). Where the procedure is routine, having a standard operating procedure can help to ensure that the work is done in exactly the same way by everyone. If different procedures are used, the risks may be different and an additional risk assessment to consider the effect of any variations would be needed. For chemicals with significant hazards the outcome of the risk assessment should also be communicated to those sharing the work area but who are not directly involved in the use of the chemical or in that particular procedure. This communication should ensure that anyone who may be involved understands what must and must not be done. Those who are required to discharge these duties may require additional training. This approach should minimise the risk of incidents occurring as a result of the interaction of two procedures and should provide an additional level of support for those actually using the chemical should something go wrong. For significant hazards you should also ensure that the presence, the hazards and the responses required are communicated to individuals outwith the immediate work area. This should ensure that appropriate planning can be undertaken to avoid an incident or emergency in one area impacting on chemicals being used or stored in another area. The Head of Department and Departmental Safety Coordinator should be informed if the use of exceptionally hazardous substances or procedures is planned.
Departments should ensure that staff are competent to carry out the duties allocated to them. This includes identifying hazards, assessing risks, developing procedures and communicating/liasing with other staff, groups and departments. Staff should be trained to undertake their duties and their actions should be the subject of periodic reviews by a competent supervisor. Much of the required training is very specific to the chemical or the application and it is therefore likely that this will be provided by experienced members of staff within the department or elsewhere in the University who are familiar with the hazards and procedures associated with them. Additional assistance may be sought from the University Chemical Safety Adviser. In cases where relevant experience or knowledge is not available internally, departments are encouraged to seek assistance from other agencies having staff with the required knowledge and competence.
For particularly hazardous chemicals/ procedures departments should maintain a record giving details of training that has been undertaken by relevant staff.