SafeTec Blog

What we can learn from Tianjin

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Earlier this week, the world mourned with China as a container storage station in Tianjin was rocked with a massive chemical explosion; killing at least 117 people - with 65 still unaccounted for. Twenty five firefighters paid the ultimate price as first responders to an incident that was wrought with missing information about the chemicals stored inside the facility.

As the cleanup efforts continue and the full effects of the explosion are still largely unknown, it commands us to pause and consider what went wrong, and what can we learn from this tragedy?

It is reported that this Tianjin warehouse stored more than 700 tons of the highly toxic substance sodium cyanide at eight different locations within the facility. Additionally, 800 tons of ammonium nitrate and 500 tons of potassium nitrate have also been reported as being on-site.The sodium cyanide level at one spot was 356 times higher than a safety limit, Ministry of Environmental Protection official Tian Weiyong has said.

Initial reports state that the company that ran the warehouse did not have permission to handle dangerous materials for much of the last year. Additionally the location of those chemicals within the facility where largely unknown, Herein lies the challenge. Accurate knowledge of a company’s chemical inventory is vital to effectively manage chemical risk and exposure. Without it, catastrophic events like those in China can occur. A comprehensive chemical management system, with up-to-date Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all chemicals within a facility is not only required for OSHA compliance, but also provides companies with the backbone of data to implement risk assessments. But it doesn’t stop there. Even with the tightest controls, new chemicals can make their way into operations. Technology is only as good as the data, and without the marriage of SDSs for all on-hand chemicals, ancillary stakeholders such as first responders truly cannot be effective in their jobs.

So how does a company prevent tragic incidents such as this?

The first step in an actionable chemical management system is an inventory of all of your on-site chemicals.

A current and accurate chemical inventory enables you to be prepared to confidently:

  1. Curate an accurate library of up-to-date SDS data.
  2. Ensure GHS-compliant labels are created and adhered to each chemical container.
  3. Know the exact location and quantity of all your on-site chemicals.
  4. Implement Environmental Health & Safety best practices for chemical management.
  5. Know on-demand what to do in case of exposure to protect all employees.
  6. Archive any unnecessary, pre-existing MSDS data sheets.
  7. Properly dispose of any unnecessary or expired chemicals.
  8. Identify hazards and assess their associated risks.
  9. Know which employees require special safety training for highly dangerous chemicals.
  10. Manage chemical exposure to reduce exposures and prevent illnesses.


Don’t know where to start? Check out our Know Your Chemicals Infographic with more information!


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