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How to Improve Safety in Major Hazard Facilities | 16th July 2019

Sites where huge amounts of hazardous materials and substances are handled, produced, stored or processed are major hazard facilities. Although it’s rare now to hear about accidents and fatalities in such sites (e.g. compared to the construction and transport sector), the risks and hazards are always present.

After all, we don’t even need to wait for major spills and leaks. The mere presence of toxic chemicals and carcinogens can affect the workers’ health day in and day out. The vapours and fumes are consistently present in the workplace and the problem gets even worse because even in minute amounts, hazardous substances can still affect the workers’ respiratory and brain function.

How to improve safety in major hazard facilities

What can we do then to improve safety in areas where large quantities of hazardous substances are being held? As with all other safety measures, the first step is to identify all the hazards. We can start by focusing on toxic chemicals, chemicals that cause skin damage, carcinogens, flammable liquids, compressed gases and explosives. Aside from the starting chemicals, we should also pay attention to the products, waste and by-products of chemical processes. Complete information about their toxicity, potential reactions and overall danger should be available. The chemicals’ hazardous properties, potentially hazardous reactions, nature of the work to be carried out in regards with the hazardous chemical and any system or surface that will deal with the chemical (including usage, handling, storage and generation of the substance) should all be known for proper risk assessment and management.

Aside from the chemicals, we should also pay attention to the containers and pipework. The labeling should be clear and correct and warning and safety signs should always be present. It’s also important that the containers, pipework and attachments are secure and stable. This way, mishandling and spills will be prevented the things that hold or transport the chemicals are strong in the first place.

Adequate training and supervision to workers is also important because of the site and work complexity. There are a lot of checkboxes and safety requirements often change through time as more information about the chemicals’ risks and toxicities are being known. The latest information should be delivered promptly so that everyone will stay safe.

Identification and prevention are the initial steps. After those things are accomplished, we can then pay attention to personal protective equipment (PPE) and preparation for worst-case scenarios. These should be considered as a last resort because the priority is preventing the hazards in the first place.

When it comes to PPE, it’s important to match them with the workplace risks. For instance, in construction sites hard hats are required because there could be falling debris and objects. In laboratories it’s required to have the proper eye and respiratory protection because chemicals and vapours can irritate and damage the eyes, nose and lungs. In major hazard facilities such as oil refineries and large chemical storage sites, a full-body protection might be required while in the area.

Aside from PPE, preparation for worst-case scenarios is also important. It’s a must to have fire protection, firefighting, emergency, spill containment and safety equipment on site. There should be a detailed emergency plan in case of a fire, spill or leak. A plan for attending to injured workers is also important to prevent worse outcomes. And before occupying the site again or declaring that the site is safe, gas detection (i.e. knowing if there are still significant amounts of dangerous volatiles) is a must to ensure workplace safety.

Process overhaul

Hazard identification and risk management are already practical ways in improving safety in major hazard facilities. There are a few cases though where a process overhaul would deliver the best results.

This requires a huge time and financial commitment because of process modification. New and more expensive equipment might be required in synthesizing and purifying a particular product. For instance, green chemistry is now playing a bigger role in chemicals manufacturing. One of green chemistry’s key principles is preventing the waste to be produced in the first place. Instead of treating or cleaning up the waste, it was never created in the beginning or during the process. In the pharmaceutical industry for example, for each kilogram of active drug ingredient produced as much as 100 kilograms of corresponding waste is produced. With a full commitment to the “prevention principle” of green chemistry, we can get a fairer deal in terms of the weight of the desired product compared to the waste produced.

Aside from the prevention principle, green chemistry is also about making chemical syntheses less hazardous. In other words, aside from the end products we’re also paying attention to the process of how we synthesised those products. For example, there are over a dozen of practical ways to produce pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals. However, cost factors often dominate the choice of production (i.e. as long as the desired chemical is produced) while neglecting the intermediate processes and chemicals in the synthesis. But if we also pay attention to those intermediates (which could be far more toxic than the desired end product), we can further improve safety in the laboratory (e.g. prevent a disaster similar to a hydrogen lab explosion at a Melbourne research facility) or chemical manufacturing site.

The two green chemistry principles are a costly undertaking which is why hazard identification and risk management are still the priorities. In addition, we can immediately create and implement measures that improve site safety while continuing with our operations. Process overhaul might still be in the to-do list (in the far future) but this action can take a huge amount of time. What we need is to improve site safety in major hazard facilities as soon as possible.

Here at All Trades we can help you take those immediate steps through our high-quality PPE and safety workwear. Since the 1970s, we’ve been building our business through hard work, honesty and integrity. After all, it’s the people’s safety at stake here which is why we’re committed to only providing the highest quality safety and workwear supplies. Contact us today for more information.