Working Safely Around Hazardous Waste

Yesterday  we reviewed hazardous waste regulations, control strategies, and container maintenance and storage best practices. Today we look at what your employees need to do to stay safe when working with or around hazardous wastes, and at management’s role in making sure that happens.

It goes without saying that any employee who works with or around hazardous wastes needs to follow safe work practices. The OSHA Required Training for Supervisors newsletter recommends these measures:

  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when working around hazardous wastes. PPE must be inspected before each use, and workers should be taught the proper procedure for removing PPE and protective clothing to avoid contamination. Required PPE generally includes:

    • Safety goggles and face shield;

    • Chemical-resistant gloves and protective clothing effective against the specific waste;

    • Chemical-resistant boots or shoe covers;

    • Respirator appropriate for the hazard.

  • Don’t bring food, beverages, cigarettes, or cosmetics into areas where there are hazardous wastes.

  • Wash hands after handling hazardous wastes and always before eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics, or using the restroom.

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  • Flush exposed area with water for at least 15 minutes immediately following any skin or eye exposure to hazardous wastes.

  • Perform hazardous waste transfers carefully, including grounding and bonding containers to prevent ignition of flammable wastes from static electricity.

  • Keep work and storage areas well ventilated when hazardous wastes are present.

  • Keep waste containers tightly sealed.

  • Use “empty” waste containers only if they’ve been thoroughly cleaned and tested.

  • Select tools that won’t create dangerous sparks or chemical reactions when used around hazardous wastes.

  • Know the locations of the nearest alarms, emergency showers, eyewash stations, first-aid supplies, spill materials, and fire extinguishers, as well as your evacuation procedures and the name and phone number of your emergency coordinator.

Overlooking required hazardous waste safety precautions could lead to serious consequences for your employees, your organization, and your community. Accidental releases of wastes can injure people, pollute the environment, and cost your organization a lot of money. So it is essential that hazardous wastes be handled safely.

Management Issues

As we noted yesterday, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) applies to all companies that generate, treat, transport, or dispose of hazardous waste. BLR’s Safety Audit Checklists highlights these areas of particular concern:

Documentation—Chief paperwork requirements under RCRA include:

  • Registering with EPA for an identification number.

  • Filing reports on hazardous waste.

  • Making sure waste containers carry proper labels.

  • Completing a proper manifest for every outgoing shipment of hazardous waste. Manifests are the key to EPA’s system of tracking of all hazardous waste from “cradle to grave”—that is, making sure someone is responsible for safeguarding it as long as it exists.

Inspection—Chief inspection concerns are to prevent container leakage or the mixing of incompatible wastes that could cause explosions, fires, or the release of toxic fumes.

Emergency preparedness/coordination—RCRA requires companies to have a contingency plan that spells out what to do in a hazardous waste emergency. Leaks or other releases must be handled promptly and properly. Though only trained, authorized workers should respond to and handle emergencies, all employees must know what to do.

Training—Because hazardous waste contains hazardous substances, worker exposure to it is governed by OSHA regulations, which always require training in hazard recognition and prevention.

Safety Audit Checklists also includes sections on the legal and training issues associated with hazardous wastes, and it provides a 48-point hazardous waste management checklist and a separate RCRA requirements checklist, topped off with a 10-question quiz.

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All told, this best-selling program provides you with more than 300 separate safety checklists, keyed to three main criteria:

  • OSHA compliance checklists, built right off the government standards in such key areas as HazCom, lockout/tagout, electrical safety, and many more.

  • “Plaintiff attorney” checklists, built around those non-OSHA issues that often attract lawsuits.

  • Safety management checklists that monitor the administrative procedures you need to have for topics such as OSHA 300 Log maintenance, training program scheduling and recordkeeping, and OSHA-required employee notifications.

Make as many copies as needed for all your supervisors and managers, and distribute. What’s more, the entire program is updated annually. And the cost averages only about $1 a checklist.

If this method of ensuring a safer, more OSHA-compliant workplace interests you, we’ll be happy to make Safety Audit Checklists available for a no-cost, no-obligation, 30-day evaluation in your office. Just let us know, and we’ll be pleased to arrange it.