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What Grandma learned from Benjamin Franklin about safe storage

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Familiarity can breed contempt when it comes to storing hazardous substances in the workplace. Doing it right requires not only the right equipment, but also the right understanding of the risks involved by everyone on the premises. Safety Storage Centre explains…

A place for everything, and everything in its place; that’s what Grandma always used to say. Well, mine did, at least. We tend to think of Grandmas as the fount of all wisdom, and so often they are, but in this instance she’d pinched the thought from that great 18th-century American innovator Benjamin Franklin.

It was a piece of wisdom Franklin needed; his life was busier than most. He was an author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. His life would have been chaos if he hadn’t been tidy!

Grandma was encouraging tidiness so her house didn’t look a mess – but it’s a trait that, on a serious note, helps us to keep modern workplaces safe.

‘Things’ in our lives are more numerous than they were in Franklin’s lifetime 300 years ago (and Grandma’s, much more recently). We have inventions neither of them could have imagined, and that includes the dangerous substances forming part of our everyday lives.

Storing hazardous substances safely

Because they’re so familiar, we can forget just how dangerous some of these substances are when they are mishandled or stored incorrectly. This is where we should recall the ‘place for everything’ thought, because part of preventing harm is the way, and the place, these substances are stored.

It starts with the immediate container for any substance, which should never be decanted into another container. We’ve all read the stories about children drinking from pop bottles in to which toxic liquids have been poured – and the horrible consequences. Original bottles and drums have all manner of important warning information on them, which should stay with the contents. That’s why the activity in our picture is wrong on so many levels. Storing drinking water in a petrol can is as foolhardy as storing fuel in a lemonade bottle, and should never be done.

Then where should these substances be kept?

Examination of the COSHH regulations is a good place to start. COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and is legislation enacted in 1988 and revised in 2002. COSHH essentials is a guide produced by the Health and Safety Executive, and includes information about safe practices for storing hazardous substances in all facilities, but especially where vulnerable people such as children the elderly and adults with learning difficulties could conceivably come into contact with them.

The counter to these dangers is the use of purpose-designed storage for hazardous substances in the workplace – COSHH cabinets

Hazardous Chemicals

What is a COSHH cabinet?

COSHH cabinets contain hazardous substances in the workplace in two ways. Firstly, they are robust and lockable, to prevent unauthorized people from getting at the chemicals inside, and secondly, their design includes spill containment to prevent the chemicals from getting out. Careful control of the keys ensures that only responsible people have access to the contents.

The cabinets are perfect for use in a multitude of diverse locations where storing hazardous substances in the workplace is unavoidable – think of the cleaning products needed in every school, for example.

Which COSHH cabinet?

Deciding on which COSHH cabinet – or indeed any kind of safe storage cabinet – is about what you need to store, and how much of them there are. The volumes of some substances, of course, are limited by rules and regulations that describe safe practices for storing hazardous substances.

More information about what you want to store is to be found in the HSE information mentioned above, the DSEAR 2002 regulations, or the HSG51 guidance about storage of flammable liquids. Look out for spill containment capability, and decide if the cabinet you need should be free-standing, wall mounted, or on wheels, capable of being taken to the location in which the substances inside are to be used. There are circumstances in which any of these would be the most appropriate.

What else do I need to do?

Substances sealed in their original containers pose little or no danger. It’s only when they are put in the wrong place or used in the wrong way that the danger levels increase, and that’s down to people.

Every individual’s behaviour can turn a safely stored substance into a hazard, so it’s important that everyone has some degree of training. At its most basic level it’s about awareness that the substances are there, and that they should be avoided. (In a school, for example, pupils just need to know that the caretaker’s cupboard is out of bounds and that they’re not allowed in).

Training will be more for people who need to work with the substances. They’ll need to know the correct method of handling them, what personal protective clothing must be worn, and where they must be used (in a fume cupboard, perhaps, or at least a well-ventilated space). They’ll also need to know where they can be stored, and with what other substances – if they’re allowed to be stored with anything else at all.

So it seems Ben Franklin and Grandma were right after all. Everything does have a place, and should be kept in it, for everyone’s safety.

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