Monday morning was a small tragedy for Attleboro, Massachusetts as an explosion occurred at the Stern-Leach Co. The accident left one worker suffering from chemical burns on over 40% of his body. About 30 workers were decontaminated and 19 were rushed to area hospitals for evaluation.
A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said the explosion happened when employees at Stern-Leach tried to mix sodium cyanide and hydrogen peroxide under a fume hood. This is something the workers do everyday so the cause of the explosion is still a big mystery to investigators.
Safety with Cyanide
Sodium cyanide (NaCN) is a kind of cyanide salt. Others belonging to this category are potassium cyanide (KCN) and calcium cyanide (Ca(CN)2). Like other kinds of compounds, cyanide salt (both dry and in solution) poses hazards, when present in high concentration or when exposed to other compounds that react violently with it.
Accidents involving cyanide salt can be avoided, though. It’s all about using proper labels, PPE and clothing, and training.
Containers and Proper Labels
When labeling containers of cyanide salts, you should provide the proper chemical name for the specific cyanide compound being labeled. The chemical name should appear in large, bold face type at the top of the label. Below is an example.
DANGER! MAY BE FATAL IF INHALED OR SWALLOWED.
CONTACT WITH ACID LIBERATES POISONOUS GAS.
CAUSES EYE BURNS AND MAY IRRITATE SKIN.
Always keep container tightly sealed when not in use. Also, make sure that it’s kept in a dry place and away from acids.
Personal Protective Equipment
One of the best ways to control or reduce exposure to cyanide salt is to use engineering controls. The use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must also be required by employers, especially since cyanide salt poses hazards when inhaled or absorbed by the skin. The following are basic PPE employees may need depending on their exposure to cyanide salt (both dry and in solution).
This is the most important PPE for employees working with cyanide. The type of respirator they have to use is dependent on the airborne concentration of cyanide salt in the workplace. It’s important that you measure the airborne concentration periodically as changes in the workplace may affect it.
Employees need to wear this PPE when working with cyanide salt or solutions containing it. The same is true if they have to use or handle equipment that may be contaminated with these.
- Chemical safety goggles
Some operations expose employees to the danger of having cyanide salts and/or solutions come into contact with the eye. In such cases, chemical safety goggles must be donned. They must wear full-length shields if molten salts, solutions or dust may come into contact with their face.
If operations pose spill and splash hazards, employees must wear shoes, boots and overshoes.
- Full body clothing
This usually includes protective sleeves and aprons. Such clothing must have closures and fit snugly about the neck, arm, wrist and ankle.
- Emergency equipment
This should be provided to employees so that they could protect themselves and escape from the work area in the event of a cyanide emergency. This equipment must be placed in well marked stations inside the work areas.
Training for Employees
Training employees about safe procedures in working with cyanide salt should be done at the beginning of their employment. It should also cover first-aid and emergency procedures as well as proper ways of disposing cyanide salt. Of course training is not complete without providing employees with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the cyanide salt they have to work with.
If you have reactions or questions about cyanide safety, feel free to comment below. You may also learn more about safety in the workplace by clicking here.