Improper storage of materials can be damaging to your equipment, dangerous to your workers and expensive for your business, risking fines that could cripple your manufacturing start-up. Take the recent case of wind blade manufacturer TPI Composites, whose Newton, Iowa, factory was fined $154,524 by OSHA after employees contracted skin injuries from epoxy resin, a chemical with adhesive properties that can cause dermatitis and chemical sensitization. In addition to fines directly related to improper handling of epoxy resin, OSHA inspectors slapped TPI with 40 pages of citations on a range of violations, including improper storage of flammable liquids in a chemical storage room, which added $4,811 to the total penalty.
Flammable liquids are just one example of common manufacturing materials used by many start-ups that require special storage. Liquid chemicals, gasses and certain solid items such as o-rings also warrant extra precautions. Here are some tips on how to properly store these three categories of common manufacturing materials in order to protect your start-up from equipment failures, safety risks, and expensive fines.
One of the most common hazardous materials used in manufacturing is gasoline, which provides a good example of the issues involved in storing liquid chemicals. In addition to being flammable and volatile, gasoline presents a number of other health risks:
- It can cause asphyxiation when inhaled in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation
- It can irritate and burn the skin and eyes
- Ingestion can cause internal damage and can even be fatal
- Chronic exposure can cause long-term damage to the skin, kidneys, nerves and brain
To avoid safety issues, strict OSHA regulations govern gasoline storage. Only approved containers and portable tanks can be used to store gasoline. Gasoline cannot be stored in areas where people normally walk, including under stairways and near exits. Storage of more than 25 gallons of gasoline requires using an OSHA-approved storage cabinet, which must be marked with a prominent label warning, “Flammable — Keep Fire Away.” No more than 60 gallons can be stored in a single cabinet, and no more than three cabinets can be stored in one area. Storage of more than 60 gallons of gasoline requires an OSHA-approved inside storage area. Materials that can react with water and create a fire hazard cannot be stored in the same room.
One of the most common chemicals used in manufacturing is chlorine. Often used in liquid form as a bleach, chlorine quickly reverts to gaseous form when used. It produces an acid when it comes into contact with moist tissues of the human body, and can damage the eyes, throat and lungs. Short-term effects can include:
- Burning pain
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty breathing
Liquid chlorine can also produce skin injuries similar to frostbite.
EPA regulations require the chlorine cylinders and ton containers should be stored in a dry area away from heat sources such as pipes, and away from direct sunlight and precipitation. Chlorine should not be stored in excessive heat. It should be stored separately from other compressed gasses and kept away from hydrocarbons, metal filings, anhydrous ammonia, ether, turpentine and flammable materials. Chlorine should not be stored near vehicles, because it can mix with carbon monoxide to form a poisonous gas. Storage containers should have a weather-resistant label and should only be accessible to authorized personnel. Cylinders should be stored upright and protected from falling, while ton containers should be stored on their sides on steel or concrete supports. Damaged containers may leak, in which case safety procedures should be followed the supplier should be notified at once.
Not all materials that require special storage are dangerous. One common material that needs special storage treatment is o-rings. Used to create vacuum seals for applications such as engine valves and medical devices, o-rings can be made from a variety of specialized forms of rubber. For instance, aircraft engines and automotive handling systems often use Viton, a fluorocarbon that has high resistance to temperature extremes, chemicals and oils.
To maintain their value as seals and prevent equipment malfunction and damage, o-rings should be stored so that they do not stretch or crack. O-rings should not be stored at temperatures above 86 degrees F or in average relative humidity exceeding the range of 40 to 70 percent. They should normally be stored unstretched. If their application requires them to be stored stretched, they should be kept in airtight packages when not in use. O-rings should be set into their complementary components within 24 hours of installation. O-ring boxes should not be stored beneath heavy materials or where heavy objects can fall on them. O-rings can crack when exposed to ultraviolet light or electrical arc sources such as motors, so they should be stored away from these risks.
Gasoline, chlorine and o-rings represent some of the specialized procedures that should be used when storing fluids, gasses and solid materials with unique chemical properties. No matter what type of material you’re storing, be sure to read the manufacturer’s safety instructions and follow all applicable regulations and best practices.