A Guide to Safe Chemical Storage in Hot WeatherRyan White
As a laboratory manager, ensuring that safe chemical storage is practised in your lab is a pretty important task. Many labs work with chemicals that are corrosive, flammable, or potentially harmful in some way. Usually, safe storage can be achieved easily with the right knowledge and equipment.
As summer sets in proper and the mercury begins to rise, however, this can become a bit more of a challenging task. If your store becomes too hot you can run the risk of hazardous fumes building up or even of a reaction occurring. Keeping your chemicals safe in the hot summer weather is essential and can be achieved with just a few easy precautions.
Follow our guide to chemical storage in hot weather to ensure lab safety during the summer months.
Proper ventilation is a key measure for keeping chemicals in your laboratory safe during hot weather. As the temperature rises, it is possible that your standard ventilation may not be enough to vent hazardous fumes and maintain an even temperature. Under normal circumstances, a rate of two air changes per hour maintained at a constant rate is usually enough to vent any hazardous fumes and keep the store at a suitably even temperature. However, if you have a store that becomes hot during warmer weather, it may be that your ventilation is insufficient and needs updating or replacing.
If your chemical store becomes warm at the height of summer and you’re planning a holiday period when the lab will be empty, it might be worth considering an alternative location. When your chemicals don’t need to be accessed frequently, you can consider moving them to a cool, well ventilated and secure space where it is easier to maintain a constant temperature on warm days. If this isn’t a possibility in your lab, you could consider investing in a chemical storage cupboard with an electronically controlled internal temperature that provides cooling in the summer and warming in the winter.
Labs that close for some or all of the summer months will usually still be maintained by some laboratory or building staff to ensure they stay clean and safe. During this time, you should arrange for a staff member to check the chemical store regularly to ensure there aren’t any problems with the storage. If a non-scientific colleague will be performing this task, make sure they know what to look for and any action that needs to be taken if there is an issue.
Volatile chemicals are chemicals that evaporate easily and are, therefore, the biggest safety risk in hot weather. Highly flammable liquids are likely to be affected, as well as non-organic volatiles like hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and ammonia. If these chemicals have started to react to the heat you might identify a stronger smell in the chemical store or notice plastic bottles beginning to bulge. Always take the appropriate safety precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment, if you notice problems in the chemical store that need resolving. Never put yourself in danger by entering a store with much higher fume levels than usual or a suspected leak.
Safety After an Absence
If you have been away from the laboratory for any period of time, be careful when entering the store upon your return. This is especially true if the weather has been hot, as there is a greater risk of fume levels being high in the store. Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment and proceed with caution.
Fire Protection System
Laboratories that store large amounts of chemicals must have a complete fire protection system. If large amounts of volatile chemicals combust in reaction to high temperatures, the resulting fire could not be effectively controlled by fire extinguishers alone. A system incorporating automatic sprinklers or a suppression system should be installed, along with monitors and alarms to ensure the safety of the building and all personnel.
If your lab could benefit from improved chemical storage and ventilation, the team at InterFocus can help. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.