The gases found within the chemical industry are wide ranging, due to the prevalence of organic and inorganic hazardous materials with low flashpoints, low LELs (the lowest concentration of a gas or vapor in the air that will burn with an ignition source) and a wide explosive range. Although the products and byproducts from the industry are incredibly beneficial societally, they can be some of the most dangerous to work directly with. This is why there is a real need for effective and reliable gas detection system implementations within the industry.
The target material utilised in the sector can be hazardous. When this is combined with the industry’s manufacturing processes, which can also produce an array of by-products with unpleasant attributes, it is important to safeguard workers health, and monitor the environmental impact.
Ensuring compliance with relevant legislation and the ongoing monitoring of emissions levels and gas concentrations across all chemical applications is the way for organisations to ensure that the limits are observed, and no one comes to any harm.
Typical processes and associated gas detection issues
The storage of raw chemical materials can be incredibly hazardous due to the likelihood of leaks which, if undetected, can harm the facility and the workers within it. These chemicals can also cause fires, undergo specific and harmful chemical reactions and cause pressure build ups, to name a few risks. For any chemicals that are either flammable, explosive, corrosive, carcinogenic, toxic or dangerous in any way, ensuring correct storage is very important to avoid accidents or adverse health implications.
The equipment used in chemical plants and facilities require regular maintenance because of the high stress of processing aggressive materials, high temperatures and pressures. This need for regular maintenance poses its own risks and hazards. All maintenance work exposes maintenance workers to specific substances which could have harmful impacts if not managed correctly. All works requiring welding and soldering need to be done so under the cover of a hot work permit and using the appropriate detection equipment. Specific personal protective instruments should also be used to shield workers from odours and particulates.
Working in confined spaces in the chemical industry poses many risks. However with many columns, silos and tanks to clean, maintain and repair working in these spaces is a requirement of the industry to keep plants operational. With this in mind ensuring the safety of those doing confined space work is very important. As these spaces are harder to ventilate, the risk of incidents is increased. There is the capacity for dangerous gas clouds to form and spontaneously combust, poorer ventilation, lack of oxygen, burns, asphyxiation, poisoning, harmful particles and mechanical impact. Pre entry checks, efficient detection equipment and thorough monitoring therefore is a must.
With leaks as a very real risk in chemical plants, the need for perimeter monitoring should be high on the priority list of health and safety managers in this sector. Irrespective of the degree of the leak and the gases involved, the impact of a leak can be very dangerous, causing harm to both those inside and outside the plant. An explosion or fire would damage equipment, materials and people, and toxic gases could spread quickly. Leaks also have economic impacts, affecting a plant’s profitability with material wasted and faults needing to be assessed and corrected.
In the UK the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations are the law which governs how employers control substances that are hazardous to health, this includes nanomaterials. The law tells employers to prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances by ascertaining the health hazards and taking appropriate steps to prevent harm to health, usually through rigorous risk assessments.
COSHH includes the regulation of harmful chemicals, mixtures, dust, gases, fumes and biological agents. Issued in 2002 the framework offers best practice steps for the protection of workers within hazardous workplaces, these include substances that are used directly within the environment, such as cleaning chemicals, or those that are byproducts of the work, such as dusts, fumes and waste products.
COSHH breaks down eight steps to follow including the creation of a COSHH Risk Assessment, taking precautions, preventing or controlling exposure, maintaining control measures, monitoring exposure, undertaking health surveillance, inputting plans and procedures for accidents and emergencies, and implementing training for employees.
The regulations governing chemical classification in the European Union is the Globally Harmonised System (GHS), which applies directly in all EU member states. This is overseen by the ECHA, or European Chemicals Agency. The REACH Regulation (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) is another EU legislation created to enhance the protection of human health and the environment from chemical related risks. The UK also has a system of REACH which governs the way in which manufacturers and importers need to register the chemicals that access the market in Great Britain.