It is important to follow basic safety precautions in all areas of chemical handling to maintain a consistently safe laboratory environment. This is especially important in schools, where employees and students have varying degrees of experience in working with chemicals. Safe chemical storage is one of the first steps in maintaining school laboratory safety. The risk of injuries due to chemical exposure, unexpected reactions and fire is minimised when basic safety precautions are taken to ensure proper chemical storage.
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The location of chemical storage depends on a number of factors including chemical use, the amount of material being stored, the expertise of the individuals responsible for the chemicals, the amount and type of space available for storage, local fire codes, insurance requirements and state and local regulations. Minimising the amount of chemicals purchased, so as to be used within a reasonable amount of time, helps to maintain the freshness of the chemical stockpile. This also minimises risks by keeping a smaller amount of chemicals in storage.
All chemicals should be inventoried when placed in storage. An up-to-date chemical inventory, including information on the chemical name, hazard class and amount, will ensure chemical interaction and hazards are taken into account to prevent unwanted reactions. Inventory information is also useful for planning and preparing for experiments to make sure sufficient chemicals are available.
Checking chemical containers on a regular basis will ensure containers are intact and their labels have not been disfigured due to factors such as fading, age and chemical exposure. Whenever possible, chemicals should be left in the original manufacturer's container to guarantee proper labelling. Appropriately labelled containers must include the following information in a clear, easy to read, fashion: name of the chemical, concentration, date placed in container, who placed the material in the container and any hazard information.
Separation of Chemicals
Divide chemicals into inorganic or organic chemicals and then further divide these into groups based on chemical compatibility. Do not store all chemicals alphabetically in one storage area as this can place incompatible chemicals in close proximity to each other. Containers and cabinets are available for chemicals of specific hazard classes, such as acids, bases, poisons or flammable materials. A chemical is hazardous if it is reactive, toxic, corrosive or ignitable. Separate hazard classes by distance and/or by secondary containment to prevent accidental mixing of chemicals. As a rule of thumb, secondary containment must contain 110 per cent of the materials being contained. Store chemicals away from drains so they will not accidentally enter the local sewer system.
Other Safety Issues
After chemicals have been properly segregated and organised, there are other basic safety issues to consider. Chemicals should not be stored on floors or above eye-level. Large containers of chemicals, like any heavy item, should not be stored on the top shelf. Shelves should have antiroll lips to prevent chemicals from falling off shelves while being moved around or during seismic activity. Finally, storage shelves should be secured to walls to prevent tipping.
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