Petrochemicals, chemicals derived from petroleum, have been a part of the manufacturing industry since the 19th century. They were first incorporated into manufacturing as a cheap substitute for natural products. Today, petrochemicals are used in everything from medication to plastics. While these chemicals are generally safe when found in their finished products, in their raw form they can be highly toxic and highly acidic and must be handled with care. There are several safety topics which can help people operate effectively around petrochemicals.
Daily Work Safety and Awareness
The most important safety topic to discuss in any potentially dangerous occupation is daily operations. Ensuring everyone has a comprehensive understanding of the daily operations of a petrochemical facility and where they, as individual workers, fit into that construct is the key to avoiding more serious complications down the road. Simple safety training such as identifying unsafe work procedures or conditions, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses and gloves while handling petrochemicals and being aware of environmental anomalies such as stray smells or smoke can keep a petrochemical facility running safely and without incident.
Hazardous Materials Response
Petrochemicals such as Naphthenic and Benzene are used in organic chemistry (fertilizer and pesticides) and as industrial solvents. While these chemicals are useful and perfectly safe when contained, a containment breach would release a volatile and highly flammable chemical which burns quickly and at extremely high temperatures. Training employees on safety around these chemicals during normal operation is necessary, but it is also necessary to train all employees on what to do should an accident occur. Standard hazardous material procedures including shutting down all electrical activity in the event of a flammable spill, using surrounding safety equipment and other resources to contain a spill or evacuation management to get everyone out of harm’s way.
Emergency Chemical Spill Treatment
Since many petrochemicals can burn the skin or damage the eyes, all those working with petrochemicals should be made aware of special emergency treatment for personal contamination with chemicals. Employees should be informed to make note of the nearest restroom and any emergency wash areas located nearby their work station. Additionally they should be informed that spills on the skin or eyes should be flushed with copious amounts of filtered water to minimize damage and victims of inhalation should be taken out into fresh air as soon as possible.
Sean Russell has been writing since 1999 and has contributed to several magazines, including "Spin" and "Art Nouveau." When not writing, Sean helps maintain community gardens in Silver Lake and Echo Park, California. Russell also worked extensively on the restoration and rejuvenation of public parks in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi after damage from 2004-2005 hurricanes.