Basic Legal Requirements
OSHA has three basic legal requirements for storing chemicals: Each chemical you store must have an accompanying MSDS that lists the substance’s known toxicity, flammability or acidic or caustic properties as well as how the chemical behaves in fire, an accidental exposure incident and how spills are treated; the MSDS must be readily available when needed; and a written training plan with information on training sessions and dates for all employees working with these chemicals is also required.
Chemical Storage Facilities
Simply shelving chemicals and chemical compounds is not sufficient under OSHA requirements. Chemicals need to be separated and stored by their particular class, preferably in separate cabinets. Chemicals that have a negative interaction with one another should be stored some distance apart to avoid accidentally triggering a hazardous situation. For example, solvents should be stored together in a fire-resistant cabinet while oxidizing agents should be stored well away from them. Similarly, acids such as nitric, acetic, sulfuric and hydrochloric should be gathered away from such bases as potassium and sodium hydroxides, aqueous ammonia, slaked lime and sodium carbonate. They are corrosive and when mixed with acids, can become heat-generating. Additionally, all cylinders must be labeled on the cylinder’s shoulder with either the type of chemical or its trade name. Essentially, a facility needs five chemical storage areas or cabinets: a general storage cabinet or area where chemicals can be shelved separately based on their categories or hazardous rating; a cabinet or area for sulfuric and nitric acids; a cabinet for corrosive acids; a specialized cabinet for flammable chemicals; and a cabinet or area for corrosive bases.
Chemical Color Coding
While OSHA does not have a formalized color coding system for chemicals, many universities, businesses and manufacturers that use or make hazardous chemicals have color coding in place. For example, the chemistry department at the University of Maine, Orono, uses red for flammable, yellow for reactive and oxidizing reagents, blue to signify a health hazard, white for corrosive chemicals and gray or green for moderately hazardous chemicals. The state of Idaho incorporates OSHA chemical storage standards and reflects standards set by other states and facilities by requiring all chemical cabinets to be under lock and key, kept away from sinks and other water sources, and necessary hazardous warning signs are fixed to storage area doors.
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration; Hazard Communication
- University of Maine: Chemistry Department; Storage of Chemicals in Laboratories
- Safety and Industrial Supplies: Tape and Label Color Coding
- Where to Find Material Safety Data Sheets on the Internet
- Hazmat Chemical Storage, Inc.: What is OSHA?
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