Tips for the Safe Handling Of Chemical Drums

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Five common warning signs displaying warnings about materialsTips for the Safe Handling Of Chemical Drums

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has comprehensive rules and guidelines for the handling of hazardous materials such as chemical drums. Chemical drums can contain materials that are toxic, radioactive, corrosive, and explosive. In handling them, personnel should use the proper equipment, techniques, and protection.

Inspection and Classification

The first thing to do in order to make a plan for handling chemical drums is determining the contents. Before any handling, operators should gain as much information as possible by inspecting drums visually. But sometimes drums are reused and therefore their markings may not reflect their contents; therefore, operators should assume they contain hazardous materials.

The first things to look for are symbols, marks, or words that indicate whether the contents are hazardous. They should look indications of radioactivity, flammability, corrosiveness, toxicity, or explosiveness. Operators should also look for marks indicating whether the drums contain discarded laboratory chemicals or reagents. Inspect for signs of drum deterioration like corrosion, dust, or leaks; look for signs indicating pressure in the drum, like swelling or bulging. Operators should also monitor the immediate area of the chemical drums, which can provide information about the contents and possible hazards, with radiation measurement instruments, combustible gas meters, or organic vapor monitors.

After this stage, the drums can be classified into categories according to hazard type. These classifications could be, for example: radioactive; bulging; explosive; leaking; containing laboratory wastes. For laboratory wastes, an extensive classification system is necessary, including categories for inorganic acids, bases, oxidizing agents, reducing agents, toxic organics, flammable organics, toxic metals, and others. For instruction on classification, personnel should consult a chemist.

Safety Preparation for Personnel

Adopting sound ergonomics practices for personnel is essential to reducing occupational injury. Ergonomics means simply “the study of work,” and is focused on reducing the amount of wasted motion and strain by adapting the job to fit the person. To this end, using ergonomics can restructure the workspace and workplace conditions; install lifting aids; or change the height of a pallet or a shelf.

Additionally, personnel should be instructed on proper lifting techniques. An entire education in anatomy is not necessary, but basic info on the structure of the spine and other parts involved in moving heavy materials is recommended.

Additionally, comprehensive training in using the machines and protective equipment involved can reduce injury and accident. The preferred method of moving chemical rums is the drum grappler. It keeps personnel removed from the drum; if drums leak, the operator can rotate the drum and immediately place it in an overpack, which is a protective outer container in which to place dangerous drums; in the case of explosion, grappler claws protect the operator by deflecting the explosion’s force.

Safe Handling Techniques

For radioactive waste, a health physicist should be immediately contacted. Operators should not handle radioactive drums until experts are consulted.

Explosive or shock-sensitive drums should be handled with extreme caution and only if necessary. All non-essential personnel should be removed, and operators should use a grappler unit constructed specifically for explosive containment. The drums must be secured safely to pallets. An audible siren signal system should be used in order to signal the commencement and completion of activities involving explosive drums.

Pressurized, bulging drums are very dangerous, and should not be moved whenever possible. If necessary, they should be handled with grappler units constructed for containment of possible explosions. They should be moved only to the extent necessary, and should be placed in an overpack.

For drums contained laboratory waste—lab packs—all non-essential personnel should be moved away. Again, a grappler unit should be used. Once moved, a chemist should inspect and classify the waste, separating the bottles within without opening them. They should be packed with cushioning and absorption materials in order to prevent excessive motion, and to absorb liquids in the event of a leak.

For deteriorating, leaking, or open drums, its contents should be transferred to a safe drum using a pump designed specifically for this purpose if the drum cannot be moved without rupture. A drum grappler should be used to place the drum in an overpack.

Before excavating a buried drum, personnel should use ground penetrating systems to ascertain the depth and location of the drums. The soil must be removed cautiously, and a dry chemical fire extinguisher must be available to contain and control small fires.

Learn More

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