Logistics & Supply Chain

Handling Dangerous Substances: IT as a Safety Factor

Databases Provide an Overview to Ensure Safe Handling

23.02.2022 - If toxic materials escape in an uncontrolled manner, they may cause an explosion or a fire.

They represent an enormous threat to people and the environment. In order to prevent serious accidents and restrict their effects, the measures range from safety systems to strict permits for using and manufacturing dangerous substances. Specific logistics centers have to contribute to preventing incidents with their infrastructure, too. However, what role does IT play in all this?

A serious accident with chemicals took place in July 2021: seven people lost their lives at Chempark Leverkusen because of an explosion followed by a fire; 31 other people were injured. In order to deescalate the situation after the event, numerous measures became part of the overall package, according to Currenta: following the initial emergency phone call to the works fire brigade, a siren alarm went off a short time later, a warning was issued via the warning app and motorways in the vicinity were closed over a wide area. The primary goal was to minimize the effects on the environment and on the people living there. It was possible to extinguish the fire two and a half hours later.

Manual processes make it more difficult to ensure safe handling

The example shows how important action and evacuation measures are for the handling of hazardous substances. Safety data sheets provide the necessary instructions and all the employees working at dangerous goods warehouses and other facilities must have access to them. However, it is still commonplace at many business sites to put the data sheets on display in paper form. If an accident occurs, e.g. a fire breaks out, this overall approach becomes a crucial disadvantage. If the sheets are consumed by the fire, local authorities and fire brigades do not have the necessary basic information to be able them to respond in a focused manner. Fire-fighting personnel may consequently not know what the properties of the hazardous substances involved in the accident are, what the consequences may be or how to provide appropriate protection for the surrounding area. In order to counteract this, logistics specialist Rhenus Warehousing Solutions has set up an entire team of specialists who have expertise related to these problems. Regionally-based dangerous goods experts, who coordinate matters across the country, then exclusively take charge of ensuring compliance with safety regulations.

Data becomes a key factor in a hazardous incident

To ensure that data management does not become a safety risk, more and more dangerous goods warehouses are switching to digital versions of safety data sheets. However, it is no longer just enough to keep lists of Excel spreadsheets. These are often not updated to a sufficient degree and make it hard for people to find the relevant information. The dangerous goods database used by Rhenus Warehousing Solutions, which has an interface with the customer’s ERP system and the internal ‘Awion’ WMS, provide some help here. The tool supplies important data about the quantities in storage — ranging from substance categories to hazard statements and even packaging units. It also makes it possible to provide real-time reporting to public authorities and fire brigades. If an incident occurs, they can relatively quickly determine which products were involved in the accident and whether any critical masses were located at the smoldering point. The fire brigade can then select the suitable extinguishing agents and evacuation measures.  

A dangerous goods database helps prevent incidents

The general aim should always be to completely prevent accidents. This is possible because the dangerous substance database makes available relevant information related to quantity thresholds, handling and safety with just a few clicks. Users can then easily discover which products may be stored together at all and which combination could potentially cause a hazardous reaction. The dangerous substance database used by Rhenus Warehousing Solutions provides information about health and safety at work as well as relevant regulations and provides a basis for assessing materials. The web-based dangerous substance database, which Rhenus developed in-house, is used at its own and at external hazardous substance sites, e.g. in Dortmund and Duisburg. Christoph Knöll, the dangerous substance expert in the business development department at Rhenus Warehousing Solutions Deutschland, describes the benefits of having a solution that has been developed in the company in the following way. ‘Chemicals never sleep! That’s why we individually tailor our dangerous substance database to our customers’ needs in order to have the best possible overview of how to store hazardous substances in a lawful manner and comply with the permit — and do so in real time.’

If you are interested, you can find more valuable information about IT risk management at dangerous goods warehouses here


Rhenus SE & Co. KG

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