Hazardous materials on shelving

 

Hazardous materials storage is a common job for many larger warehouses, but it’s one that comes with a unique set of risks and opportunities.

True to their name, hazardous materials need to be handled, transported, and stored with the greatest care to prevent damage and injury to your warehouse and your staff. As defined by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management, hazardous materials are “any item or agent (biological, chemical, radiological, and/or physical), which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors.”

Pretty heavy stuff, right? Don’t get anxious, though—there’s plenty of ways to safely store, transport, and organize these materials without putting your staff in unnecessary danger. Here’s five tips we’ve encountered to help you safely store hazardous materials in your warehouse:

 

Understand what constitutes a hazardous material

Truly hazardous materials are a category all on their own, even separate from other chemicals that need to be stored safely like cleaning supplies, and knowing what should be considered “hazardous materials” is the right place to start. These materials typically include chemicals and toxic substances that provide an immediate physical hazard, such as corrosion or flammability, or anything that can cause acute or chronic health effects after exposure.

 

Segregate all hazardous materials as soon as they arrive

If your warehouse deals in any number of hazardous materials, your first priority for safety is to segregate and isolate the hazardous materials as they roll in. To start with, you can assume that any oxidizers, corrosives, compressed gasses, and any toxic, flammable, or combustible liquid needs to be kept far away from anything else that’s being shelved. These chemicals can have a violent reaction with even the simplest chemicals like detergents and soaps, so separating them is crucial.

 

Review labels on each product

Once your corrosive and dangerous products are safely kept away from anything it may not get along with, you need to make sure each one is labeled up to code. Different symbols exist to indicate the dangerous components of each chemical (flammability, corrosiveness, etc) and proper labeling of each is not only a good idea, it’s required by law in many cases. Make sure your labels are up to code to keep your workers as safe and informed as possible.

 

Provide the right storage for each type of material

Hazardous materials need their own unique storage solutions, to the point where keeping everything on your typical warehouse shelves won’t cut it. Using shelves designed to prevent contamination and reduce the risk of damage, such as stainless steel shelving and wire shelving, will help keep these products safer than by using standard shelves that can’t stand up to the punishment. Try to avoid using tiered shelving like pallet racks, too—these products should be kept as close to the ground as possible to prevent possible falling or spilling from high areas.

 

Keep an up-to-date contingency plan

Finally, no matter how carefully you store your hazardous materials, accidents can happen at any time and that means you need to be able to respond to them appropriately. Whatever kind of hazardous waste generator your warehouse qualifies as, your warehouse is required to keep an emergency contingency plan on file that can be reviewed at any time by both employees and government inspectors that may come by. This plan needs to be able to adapt and change with your needs, too—as different chemicals come into and out of your warehouse, you need to be able to update your contingency plan to make sure everything is being handled correctly and not in a one-size-fits-all style.

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