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Safety & Health Guidelines for the Chemical Industry by OSHA

In December 1984 a methyl isocyanate chemical leak occurred in Bhopal, India that drew the world’s attention to serious hazards in the chemical industry. The country faced huge damage due to this tragedy and following that, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed guidelines to aid employees and protecting them from potential hazards in chemical industries.

The guidelines are aimed at the conditions and processes found in the chemical industry including firms in SICs 28 and 29. These guidelines are used in a wide spectrum of workplaces that produce industrial and consumer chemical products.

Disaster Prevention

Three major tasks need to be performed before an emergency response system can begin. The first task is to identify the key process and elements of the production process and how operational processes are kept safe bounds in normal conditions. 

There are four areas listed below that are commonly found in chemical plants.

1.       A management system that includes management personnel, process specifications, plant design, standard operation procedures, and the written emergency plan.

2.       A personnel subsystem that assigns and defines roles, for both normal and emergency operations, and provides appropriate training. This may also include labour or management safety committees.

3.       A physical subsystem that may include transportation systems for materials, ventilation systems, waste removal systems, containment systems, and other process-related equipment.

4.       An emergency services subsystem including plant and community components.

A second task is to understand how critical failure points are identified, and what measures are used to ensure safe operations. This includes assessing the interrelation of the components and identifying which safety feature in the system should be backed up within safe limits.

The third task is to identify the emergency response system that is embedded in the operating system. It is a latent system that is active only when preventative measures have failed and an incident has occurred.

Plant Layout

The plant layout has some specific safety aspects. Examples include:

1.       Separation and isolation

  • Chemicals that may react with one another are to be physically separated; oxidizers are to be stored in separate areas from the fuel storage place.
  • Areas of potential explosions & explosive storage area to be isolated so if there is an explosion, the damage, and risk to workers is minimized.

2.     Drainage

  • Provisions should be made to prevent the leak or spill from piping vessels.
  • The company should make provisions to control unexpected hazardous vapor or gas releases within the drain lines.

3.     Housekeeping

  • Work areas should be well maintained.

4.     Enclosed Spaces

  • Some processes that are safe in open air may become hazardous if enclosed. If areas of potential leaks are enclosed, there should be adequate precautions to protect workers.

Contamination Control

Reactive chemicals may have their reactions catalyzed by common materials that can easily enter in systems whenever seals are opened.

  • If such catalysts are identified, it is important to exclude them from the system.
  • When systems are opened for maintenance purposes, precautions need to be taken to prevent contamination. The system should be safeguard while it is open. Precautions should be taken to ensure that replacement parts are free of contaminants.

Physical Facilities

The equipment used in any chemical plant is often considered secondary to the production processes. However, the equipment is important like:

  • Emergency eyewash
  • Fixed fire suppression equipment
  • Portable fire fighting equipment

Inspection and Maintenance

All machinery must be put to a halt at a regular interval of time. When safety systems are shut down, backup systems should be available to provide replacement protection. If shutoff valves can isolate safety relief valves, proper measures should be taken so that the system is protected from over-pressurization.

Pressure vessels also need periodic inspection and testing because of normal wear and potential corrosion either at welds or in the base material.

These are the safety guidelines that need to be followed everywhere across the globe in the chemical industry. If these measures are followed properly you can keep your workers safe. You should also keep PPE in place to keep your workers safe on a working site. 

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