A few weeks ago, we discussed spill clean-up in our safety tip. If you are involved in the cleanup of some chemicals or hazardous materials, you know that there are some things that need to be taken into consideration when faced with a spill or release. There are certain things, like vapor density or flammability that you will need to think about. Sometimes, you don’t have a lot of time to do the research when there’s product on the ground. That’s when you need to know the 30 Second Rules.
What is a 30 Second Rule you ask? Well, simply put, it is a list of some things that we can learn and that you need to remember during the first 30 seconds of any incident involving hazardous materials. Essentially, if you remember these rules, you will likely be better protected (i.e. safer) and look a lot smarter when an incident occurs involving hazardous materials. While they are not perfect, they are easy to recall and will be useful until more definitive information (like from an SDS) becomes available. We have found from a number of our students, that such rules have helped them in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Well, here they are.
1. If the material involved in the clean up or spill is a flammable or combustible material, the vapors will be heavier than air. Yes, it is true. Can you name a flammable or combustible material with a vapor density less than one? If you think of one, let us know, because we can’t name one. Remember, the heavier the vapor density the more likely it will be that flammable vapors will be pooling on the ground. For this reason, you should think that these materials when released will present a higher problem for you.
2. If the material involved in the clean up or spill is a flammable or combustible material, the liquid will not be heavier than water or it will mix with water. In either case, adding water to a material denoted by the flammable or combustible label or placard will generally make the situation worse. A good rule of thumb to remember is that almost all flammable and combustible liquids are either soluble/miscible in water or have a specific gravity less than one. In almost all cases, a spill of these materials will almost certainly be made worse by adding water.
3. Materials that are not on the H-A-H-A-M-I-C-E list are almost always heavier than air. This is not a happy mouse. Some of you may have learned this simple pneumonic for remembering the lighter than air gases. With a few exceptions, the gases can be associated with the pneumonic H-A-H-A-M-I-C-E.
Note: There are a number of gases that fit within the “Illuminating” gases. They include gases which illuminate or light up.
- Natural gas, which is not all methane was actually used in street lights at the turn of the century.
- Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) is the third one in the list and takes a little more explanation and a bit of mind stretching to understand why it fits. One of the things that we use HCN for is to execute convicted persons in the gas chamber. Please pardon the very sick humor, but when the convict is exposed to the gas, there is a brief moment where they “see the light.” I told you it was a bit sick, but I bet you will not forget it.
4. Oxidizers, when part of any spill or clean-up project, almost always make the situation worse, creating a safety hazard for workers. This is a generality but certainly one that bears some consideration. It the material ends in “ate” or “ite,” or has “per” “oxy” or “hypo” in its name, it might be an oxidizer. If so, expect the worse.