Working in an industrial environment has its fair share of risks. However, as a worker, there are ways to reduce your risk of injury and increase your chances of coming home at the end of the day. If you work with metals or chemical compounds on a regular basis, you know that they can be volatile in almost every sense of the word. There are precautions that must be taken at all times to ensure safety. When it comes to working with pyrophoric materials, however, there is another element of danger that most people don’t commonly think about until it’s too late. If you work with these materials on a regular basis, it’s important to know how to handle them safely and what actions need to be taken should an incident occur. Here is everything you need to know about working with pyrophoric materials at work.
What are Pyrophoric Materials?
A pyrophoric material is one that spontaneously ignites when it comes in contact with air. This spontaneous combustion occurs at a lower temperature than the melting point of the material itself, so it is not a reaction that happens as a result of high heat. Most often, liquid chemicals are pyrophoric. However, some solids can be pyrophoric as well, including sodium, magnesium, calcium, titanium and vanadium, to name a few. This spontaneous combustion happens because of chemical reactions occurring at a molecular level, where the oxygen on the surface of the liquid or solid reacts with the material itself. This reaction is rapid and uncontrolled and can happen in the blink of an eye. Because the reaction happens so quickly and in the open air, there is no way to control or stop it.
Why Are These Materials Dangerous?
Pyrophoric materials are dangerous because they can ignite when they come in contact with oxygen in the air. This happens because the chemicals in the surface of the liquid or solid react with the oxygen in the air. While this reaction can occur at room temperature, it occurs much more quickly when the material is heated up. This is why it is so important to handle these materials in a controlled way. If the liquid comes into contact with air and a spark occurs, it can ignite and cause an explosion. The same goes for the solid form of these materials, as the reaction can occur in air.
How to Handle Pyrophoric Materials at Work
If you work with pyrophoric materials regularly, you need to follow certain safety procedures to ensure your safety and the safety of your coworkers. – Wear Personal Protective Equipment – Whenever you work with pyrophoric materials, you must wear a full suit, including a face shield, respirator, gloves and long-sleeved shirt. If you can see the chemical on the outside of the container, it is even more important that you wear these. – Have an Industrial Hygiene Plan – You also need to have an industrial hygiene plan in place that outlines where and when you can work with the chemical and what needs to be done in the event of an emergency. This plan should be reviewed with your team members and supervisors on a regular basis. – Keep Containers Tightly Closed – Be sure that you always keep the containers of pyrophoric materials tightly closed. Do not leave the containers open or have multiple containers open at the same time. If you need to open a container, make sure you carefully close it as soon as you are done. – Handle Materials in a Ventilated Area – You also need to handle these materials in a properly ventilated area. Not only is this important for your health, but it also helps to reduce the chances that the materials will ignite. – Keep Fire Extinguishers Nearby – Make sure there are fire extinguishers nearby if you work regularly with pyrophoric materials. This is particularly important for those who work in labs or use flammable solvents, as the likelihood of an ignition is even greater. – Report Any Incidents – If you have an incident with pyrophoric materials, report it immediately. In some cases, you may need to evacuate the area, but you must report it nonetheless. This helps to ensure that workers are aware of the risks and can take the proper precautions. – Complete a Hazardous Substance Evaluation – If you work with pyrophoric materials regularly, you must complete a Hazardous Substance Evaluation. This helps to identify the risks that are involved with working with these chemicals and how to reduce those risks.
There are a few pieces of safety equipment that you must have when working with pyrophoric materials. The first and most important is a respirator. The respirator must be rated for chemical protection and have an organic vapor cartridge. Make sure that the respirator is correctly fitted and that the cartridges are replaced regularly. You also need long sleeves and gloves that can withstand heat and chemical protection. Fire extinguishers are also a necessity in this type of work environment. Make sure that you have fire extinguishers in multiple locations and that they are inspected and serviced on a regular basis. You should also have a fire alarm installed in the work area and a first aid kit readily available.
Handling pyrophoric materials requires extreme caution and attention to detail. If you work with these materials on a regular basis, you may want to consult with an expert to make sure that you are handling them correctly and following all necessary safety procedures. While these materials aren’t commonly used in industries, they do still exist. It is important to know how to handle them safely should you encounter them at work.