DEKRA Process Safety Alert: Understanding Oxidizer Hazards Can Save Lives

Dec 01, 2020
Although oxidizers are commonly found in homes and the workplace, they can pose serious risks, including death, if unintentionally mixed with incompatible materials. Oxidizers are found in a variety of applications, such as sanitizing agents, cleaners, fertilizers, rocket propellant, and bleaching agents. It is easy to be complacent about the risk because people use many of these products safely every day. However, a mistake involving the mix of oxidizers with common organic materials, like oil, alcohol, and acetone, can result in a catastrophic, unintended chemical reaction that causes rapid generation of heat and gas. This can result in equipment over-pressure and explosions capable of destroying a facility.
What is an Oxidizer?
Oxidizers are hazardous materials that react easily and energetically to produce oxygen or other oxidizing gas and may:
  • cause combustible materials nearby to smolder or spontaneously combust;
  • intensify and accelerate an existing fire;
  • undergo self-sustained decomposition due to contamination or heat exposure; and
  • generate heat and pressure so quickly it can over-pressure equipment such as dryers, mixing tanks, and portable containers.
Oxidizers can vary in strength, but all are hazardous and must be treated in accordance with their properties. Commonly used oxidizers include:
  • Bromine;
  • Chlorates and perchlorates;
  • Chromates and Dichromates;
  • Peroxides, including Hydrogen Peroxide;
  • Nitrates and Nitrites;
  • Nitric Acid;
  • Hypochlorite and other bleach products (e.g. chlorinated dry bleach); and
  • Permanganates.
How to Prevent Explosion and Fire Hazards:
Any facility that uses reactive materials needs to understand what can go wrong in order to protect workers from the hazards associated from unintended mixing of materials. There are many considerations, among them:
  • Know the decomposition and reactivity hazards of chemicals marked as oxidizers. Take an inventory of what materials are being used for cleaning and equipment sanitization efforts, including water purification and waste handling.
  • Conduct a hazard assessment with a multi-disciplinary team and ask, “How can oxidizers be mixed with incompatible materials by mistake or due to equipment failure?” and implement appropriate engineering and administrative controls to prevent these occurrences.
  • Put strict storage and handling procedures in place to keep oxidizers away from heat and store away from combustible materials.
  • DO NOT return excess chemicals to their original container. If organic impurities are introduced to the container, a fire, explosion, or other energetic event could occur.
Do Not be Complacent: It Can happen Here!
If you use or work near oxidizers, take the necessary steps to manage reactive chemical hazard risks to protect your workers, as well as emergency responders. Industry-recognized resources include the following:
DEKRA Process Safety is offering a complimentary 15-minute discussion to help companies navigate these situations and manage their risks. Please call (609) 799-4449 extension 321 or click here to contact us and reference this offer.