Chemical companies must meet or exceed standards that have been put in place by both OSHA and the Federal Government when it comes to the use, storage and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals. In order to accomplish this, the company must have all of the equipment necessary to both contain and clean up potential hazards as they occur. Employees must also have the necessary equipment to protect themselves from any degree of exposure to the chemicals that are present, either hazardous or non-hazardous.
What Is Involved in the Decontamination Process?
There are several steps in the decontamination process. First of which is identifying and evaluating the severity of the situation. The next step is containment and clean-up. The area must be blocked off and clearly marked until steps can be taken to clean and decontaminate the area. You will also need access to the MSDS sheets for each type of chemical involved.
The MSDS sheets will detail what equipment will be needed during the cleanup process, disinfectants for various biohazard type materials, personal protective equipment, and the proper tools and containers that are needed to dispose of the various types of waste. You must also have the contact information for disposal companies who are capable of handling this type of waste. Once an area has been decontaminated, it must be inspected and cleared before it can be reopened for further use.
What Decontamination Protocols Are in Place?
If you own or manage a company where chemicals are produced, used, or stored, you must have a detailed list of protocols that define how your employees will handle any type of emergency that occurs. This includes specific steps for each type of contamination, ranging from spills, contact with the skin, airborne, or leaks into the environment.
The protocols for each type of management must account for a way to contain the hazardous/non-hazardous material, personal protective equipment for employees, and containers in which to store waste or debris. This also includes knowing proper cleanup and disposal procedures as well as having the area inspected by an OSHA representative or other agency that has the necessary certifications to clear an area and deem it safe for use.
Are Decontamination Stations Needed?
Decontamination stations are needed anywhere that chemicals are produced, used, stored, or disposed of. Employees must have access to immediate decontamination tools if they are exposed to any type of chemical. Decontamination stations take two forms. The first being a small station with a sink, first aid kit, and other tools that are needed to contain and remove various types of contaminants on a small scale.
The other type of decontamination station is much larger, normally an 8×9 foot area with a shower or hose that can be used to rinse the entire body from head to toe. Ideally, the area is enclosed so that the person can disrobe and wash thoroughly. The area should contain all of the items necessary for neutralizing, cleaning, and disinfecting the person as well as any items they bring into the area. In some cases, a person in a HAZMAT suit may be asked to assist the individual with the decontamination process.
Meeting OSHA Standards
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is in charge of assisting companies in maintaining a safe work environment. In order to remain in compliance with OSHA standards, the company must know the type of chemicals that are on the premises as well as what protocols are required for each type of chemical. The company must have MSDS sheets for each chemical that are easily accessible by all employees, at any time. Personal protection equipment must also be easily within reach as well as strategically placed decontamination stations that are at the right specifications for the chemicals on hand.
Personal protection equipment can include:
- Latex/non-latex gloves
- Full face respirators
- Breathing masks
- Saranex 23-P suits
- Flock-lined Nitrile gloves
- Oil soak or other absorbent materials
This is only a partial listing. Each type of chemical will have a list of PPE within its MSDS paperwork that should be kept on hand at all times.
Companies that are found to be in violation of OSHA standards can be fined for each infraction. If the infractions are severe enough or if the company is found to be consistently non-compliant, it may be forced to cease operations until all OSHA standards have been met and all fines have been paid. Complying with OSHA standards is not an option. All standards must be met and adhered to at all times without exception. OSHA performs inspections to determine if all standards are being met, especially if there are hazardous chemicals on the premises.
Remaining in Compliance
Remaining in compliance means following every aspect of the protocols that have been put in place. Compliance takes many forms including always making sure that all of the proper supplies are on hand in terms of personal protection equipment and disinfectants that must be used to decontaminate and clean an area that has been impacted by a spill or leak.
Other areas where compliance is mandatory is storage and disposal. Containers must be properly identified and each chemical must be placed in a container that is rated for its use. It is also essential that each type of chemical be disposed of in such a way that no contamination takes place. This not only involves using the right containers but also working with a disposal company that has the proper training and tools to dispose of the chemicals in accordance with EPA standards.
Compliance also requires accurate and up-to-date documentation. This involves purchase records, labeling, storing, contamination issues, and disposal. Any usage must be properly documented as well. It’s essential that all records are accurate and concise containing details of each use and how the resulting by-products were disposed of. Documentation is also required when it has to do with employee training. Employees must receive sufficient training on how to use MSDS sheets as well as how to clean up and dispose of contaminated items. All training must be documented and kept up-to-date to ensure everyone knows how to take control of an emergency situation if one occurs.
Preparing for an Inspection
Inspections are often performed by OSHA inspectors or individuals from the Environmental Protection Agency. To sufficiently be prepared for an inspection, all of your documentation must be in order. This includes training records, purchase orders, usage logs, storage and inventory logs, and disposal records. Companies who work in the disposal industry are also required to maintain accurate and up-to-date records of each disposal job they perform. All records must match.
It is up to the inspectors as to whether or not employees will be allowed on the premises during an inspection. In some instances, the entire operation may be shut down during an inspection unless it is imperative that the inspection take place when the facility is fully operational. You will be required to provide full access to all areas of the facility and to answer any questions the inspectors have about the facility and its operation.
Implementing New Protocols
Over time, certain safety protocols may change. Companies that are registered to work with specific types of hazardous and non-hazardous waste will receive all necessary updates to decontamination protocols and guidelines that pertain to them. Once received, it will be up to them to implement them within the time frame specified in the update. Each protocol will provide detailed instructions as to what changes must be made. In some cases, an inspection may be required to ensure that all guidelines are being followed and there are no compliance violations.
When it comes to decontamination protocols, there may be no way to tell how well the new protocols work until an event actually occurs. In this situation, implementing the protocols would be to properly train employees on the guidelines and to implement new best practices in terms of documentation, storage, and disposal of all chemicals in question. Training may be provided as necessary if the documentation has substantially changed and new software is used as part of the documentation process.
Display Necessary Signage Such As Steps to Take in the Event of an Emergency
OSHA provides signage that displays both written instructions as well as images showing proper technique. The signage should be displayed prominently in areas where employees are working. They must also be placed within close proximity to decontamination stations or near first aid centers. Each piece of signage must be in a well-lit area where it is clearly visible and easy to read in case of an emergency.
To ensure that your company is following all necessary decontamination protocols, contact OSHA or the EPA and request an audit. They will be able to walk you through the guidelines and provide you with any updated materials. You will also be informed of any changes in training guidelines. You may also request an inspection to ensure that all of your equipment is performing as safely as possible.
The same is true for your employees. All employees should receive refresher classes at least once every year to ensure they remain in compliance with OSHA standards and any changes that may have been made to the safety guidelines since they last took the class.
These small steps will allow you to remain confident that your company is operating according to all of the safety and decontamination protocols that are currently in place. Remaining in compliance with all decontamination protocols is an essential part of your business. Performing in-house audits and inspections will help you to remain in compliance and maintain the safety of your employees and the environment.