September 3, 2020

When the Beirut warehouse blew up in early August 2020, the world got an unfortunate taste of why safe chemical warehousing is so important. The Lebanese warehouse stored 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, commonly used in both fertilizer and bombs. It had been in storage for at least four years in allegedly unsafe conditions. The tragic explosion cost more than 150 lives, flattened a huge swath of the city, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

It’s an understatement to say that chemical storage is a different beast than e-commerce storage. These dangerous goods are flammable liquids or gasses, and other hazardous materials. They could be a physical hazard, like hazardous chemicals or gasses that are combustible or explosive, or they could be a health hazard, potentially causing acute or chronic health problems. Health hazards might include irritants, corrosive materials, oxidizers, or carcinogens. These could damage parts of a person’s body, including internal organs. And as seen with Beirut, improper storage can result in widespread death.

Understanding how to properly store hazardous chemicals is essential to both human safety, building safety, and environmental safety.

Proper chemical storage

In the US today, to help with handling and chemical storage the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the manufacturer, importer or distributor to provide SDS sheets, also known as a safety data sheet. The SDS shares handling, transporting, and safe storage information. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK has legal requirements to store chemicals as well.

A chemical storage facility needs to take precautions and understand how to handle and store each type of chemical, but also understand the relationships between the various chemicals. Hazardous chemicals can react with each other. Storing only the chemicals needed for short term use can help minimize dangers, as can inspections of chemical storage areas on a regular basis, to ensure no leakage, expired chemicals or other issues.

A chemical warehouse should have special precautions and safety measures like adequate ventilation, chemical identification and labeling, and proper building temperature controls. When the items first enter the chemical warehouse, the containers should be dated in real-time, with new dates added when the containers are first opened. Proper chemical storage should also include segregating incompatible chemicals, and using a physical barrier if necessary and recommended by the chemical industry or OSHA.

Flammable or reactive chemicals should be in storage rooms or cabinets approved for such items, with rules followed for keeping doors shut. Flammable and reactive chemicals should not be kept near sunlight or heat. Chemicals should not be stored on high or overcrowded shelving units; they should be eye level or lower. Shelves should have a barrier or lip so they can’t roll off. They should also not be stored on the floor or in aisles. They should be on pallets or shelving units.

Packaging should be unbreakable if the contents are liquid. If not, the packages should be doubled in case one breaks, and the storage cabinet should be able to hold the liquid contents just in case it leaks or breaks. Locked cabinets should be used for toxic chemicals or controlled substances. Chemical cabinets holding volatile or odorous chemicals should have their own ventilation system.

Choosing a chemical warehouse

It’s important to find a chemical warehouse for your supply chain that can provide proper storage and that has highly trained employees. Chemical logistics is also important: cross-docking, picking and packing, and transport. Only certain types of forklifts can be used in the warehouse. The warehouse should be certified by the appropriate organizations.

For worker safety, the chemical storage warehouse should have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) or hazmat suits, for good practice. Emergency information and equipment should be available, including control measures like fire extinguishers and a sprinkler system, first aid supplies, emergency phone numbers, an eyewash station and emergency shower, and supplies for clean-up. Warehousing services workers should conduct regular risk assessments to ensure proper storage, no leaking or deteriorating containers, closed and unblocked doors, proper trash disposal, adequate lighting and temperature, clear aisles, and the right warning signs in the right areas.

Stord can help you find the best options for chemical warehousing, with locations most appropriate for your organization and your storage needs. Let us know how we can help.