Laboratory stores play a significant role in the efficient working of laboratories. Stores maintain stocks of chemicals, utilities, and consumables which are required by chemists. It is true that not all items pose hazards but materials that have hazard potential include:
- Toxic and poisonous chemicals
- Flammable solvents
- Corrosive liquids including strong acids
- Compressed Gases
- Highly reactive chemicals and explosive materials
- Dangerous microbiological specimens
- Radioactive materials
The list can include other hazardous items depending on activities of the laboratory. An earlier article covered the responsibilities of stakeholders for implementing laboratory warehouse safety. In the present article, suggestions are being offered for the prevention of accidents in warehouses.
Types of accidents
Accidents in stores can prove to be even more damaging than in laboratories primarily because storage is in bulk quantities. Generally, accidents result from the following factors:
- Electrical short circuits and shocks
- Leaks and spills
- Unplanned storage
- Use of defective material handling equipment
- Careless handling of containers
Fires can result in stores maintaining stocks of flammable liquids and gases.
- Provide adequate numbers of fire extinguishers in vulnerable locations. In addition, smoke detectors and fire hoses should also be additionally provided. Such devices should be periodically inspected to confirm their proper functioning.
- Basic firefighting training should be provided to all warehouse workers.
- Stocks of flammable liquids and gases should be kept in specially designated areas away from other routine supplies. The areas should be well ventilated and protected from sunshine and rain. Gas cylinders should be inspected periodically for freedom from leakages.
- Only sufficient stocks should be maintained and replenished from time to time in line with laboratory requirements.
Electrical short circuits and shocks
Electrical shocks and short circuits are next common cause of accidents
- Ensure electrical utilities are properly earthed
- Electrical points are not overloaded
- Inspect wirings for damages so that there are no exposed cables
- Entry to high tension areas should be allowed only with safety shoes and gloves.
Leakages and Spillages
- Inspect containers and packets for physical damage and leaks before stocking in designated spaces
- Inspect gas cylinders periodically for leaks and store them in well-ventilated rooms
- Maintain spill management kits
- Spillage areas should be cordoned off immediately and spills should be attended to on priority
- Move solvent bottles in trays or trolleys
- Do not stock material in passages and galleries as it can lead to blockage of escape routes during emergencies
- Incompatible materials should not be stored in the close vicinity of one another
- Before stacking plastic carboys and metal drums ensure that base pallets are not damaged, cracked or deformed
- Highly toxic and poisonous materials should be stocked in special cabinets under lock and key
Defective material handling equipment
- Ensure proper functioning of material handling equipment such as trolley and forklifts before using them
- Do not operate the material handling equipment in reverse as this can lead to unexpected accidents
- Never overload trolleys and forklifts
- Do not carry solvent bottles from the neck alone. Place the other hand below for additional support
- Do not place corrosive liquids on overhead shelves. The best option is to place them on the floor.
- Keep the storage area well illuminated at all times
- Make use of protective clothing and gloves when handling corrosive liquids
- Gas cylinders should be kept properly secured to walls and should not be rolled on the floor or down the ramps.
Safety in the stores can be ensured through a contribution from all concerned as it is a joint responsibility. Safety instructions should reach all through training sessions. On observation of any damages or flaws, corrective action should be taken proactively to prevent mishaps in future.