Ammonia is a common chemical that many people probably keep underneath the kitchen sink at home. But don’t let workers be fooled into thinking ammonia is completely safe because they can buy it at a grocery store—on the contrary, ammonia is extremely dangerous.
Why train workers who work around ammonia? Ammonia is an extremely hazardous chemical that is widely used in many industries. It is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs; flammable; and under certain conditions, explosive. Workers need to know how to work safely around this chemical.
Workers who are exposed to ammonia regularly may become desensitized to its irritant effects and not recognize dangerous concentrations. Don’t let workers depend on smell for warning—install release detection systems in all areas where ammonia is present.
Widespread Use of Ammonia
Ammonia is a common refrigerant in many industries. In agriculture, it is injected into soil as fertilizer. It is also used in the manufacture of plastics, dyes, textiles, detergents, and pesticides. It’s even sold for home use. Ammonia may be found in solution, as ammonium hydroxide (the form most people are familiar with), or packaged as a pressurized gas, in a waterless (anhydrous) form.
Hazards of Ammonia
Inform your workers of ammonia’s hazards. Ammonia is a health hazard—it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Acute exposure can cause eye and respiratory irritation, coughing, and wheezing. The concentration in air that is immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) is 300 parts per million (ppm). Workers who inhale it may experience swelling and accumulation of fluid in the lungs, which can occur up to 24 hours after exposure.
Ammonia can be explosive, especially in an enclosed space or when other flammable chemicals are present. By itself, its flammable range is between 15 percent and 28 percent by volume in air. When mixed with lubricating oils, the flammable range increases.
Ammonia will react dangerously with some chemicals—most notably, chlorine bleach. Ammonia is also incompatible with other halogens (for example, fluorine), oxidizing agents (for example, nitrogen oxide), and heavy metals (for example, mercury and silver).
Working Safely with Ammonia
Train employees to work safely with ammonia by following these general precautions and the safe work practices that apply in this facility:
- Wear personal protective equipment. To work with liquid ammonia, you may need eye, face, and skin protection. To work with liquid or gaseous ammonia, you may require respiratory protection.
- Take hot work permitting precautions whenever hot work will be performed in areas where ammonia is present. If piping, vessels, or containers that have held ammonia will be welded, soldered, drilled, or cut, purge all ammonia first.
- Use proper ventilation. Never work with ammonia in an unventilated area. Always ensure that you have adequate ventilation, and make sure that ventilation is nonsparking or explosion-proof.
- Store ammonia separately from incompatible chemicals, away from heat and ignition sources.
- Know what to do in case of a spill or leak. When you work with ammonia, know where the emergency escape respirators are located. If ammonia leaks or is spilled, put on a respirator, and leave the area immediately. Report the spill or leak so it can be appropriately controlled.
- Know how to respond to splashes. Liquid ammonia can burn your eyes. Know where the emergency eyewash is stored in your work area and how to use it.
Ammonia is both common and potentially deadly. You need to know how to keep your cool around this refrigerant and stay safe.
Why It Matters
- On November 1, 2011, a hazardous materials release occurred at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, just south of San Clemente, California, prompting the immediate evacuation of the plant’s personnel—but it wasn’t a radiation release.
- The chemical that posed an immediate hazard to the health and safety of workers at the plant was ammonia.
- You can avoid this kind of incident in your workplace by training your workers on how to work safely around ammonia.