Safe Use of Ammonia – October 2021

Ammonia is a hazardous gas that has many uses in consumer products and manufacturing. It is used as a refrigerant gas in air-conditioning since it can absorb heat from its surroundings. It can be used to purify water and as a disinfectant, and is a building block in the creation of many chemicals including explosives, fabrics, pesticides, and dyes. About 90 percent of ammonia produced is used in fertilizer to help sustain food production around the world. 

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a strong and irritating odor. It is easily liquefied and is shipped as a compressed gas. It can affect the eyes, skin, and, respiratory system and has a range of effects. These may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest pain, and pulmonary edema. Exposure can also cause skin burns and frostbite. Severe exposure can cause permanent disability or death. 

Because of the high degree of hazard, OSHA has a specific standard for anhydrous ammonia, 1910.111 Storage and Handling of Anhydrous Ammonia. It has strict regulations on ammonia markings, notations, location, construction of piping, tubing, and fixtures, hoses, relief devices, transfer, tank cars, gauging devices, electrical, and others. It has established a Permissible Exposure Limit of 50 ppm. EPA also regulates the use of ammonia and has an “Accident Prevention and Response Model for Anhydrous Ammonia Refrigeration System Operators”.  

All facilities that use ammonia should conduct initial and regular “System Safety Analysis” on all devices and procedures. The International System Safety Society is a  helpful resource for conducting such a survey. Employers should train employees in the operation and use of all systems, safety procedures. emergency action plans, and personal protective equipment. Ammonia is a dangerous chemical if not used properly. By taking these actions and following OSHA requirements the safety of employees can be assured. 

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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