TALLINN - A chemical safety raid carried out by the Estonian Rescue Board revealed that less than a quarter of the establishments checked were in order.
The Rescue Board and the Labor Inspectorate carried out a joint raid from Feb. 15 to March 12 to inspect establishments throughout Estonia that handle small quantities of hazardous chemicals. The Rescue Board visited 54 establishments, with deficiencies identified at 41 of these, meaning only 24 percent of the establishments were in order. The Labor Inspectorate was involved in inspecting 18 establishments.
Tagne Tahe, head of the safety supervision department of the Rescue Board, said that none of the establishments inspected exceeded the minimum hazard level for chemicals. "Unfortunately, there were the most deficiencies in the case of chemical storage facilities -- 28 institutions exhibited non-compliance with the marking of the storage facility, and another 28 institutions had problems with the storage facility itself," Tahe said.
Employees of 18 establishments checked did not know how to act in case of fire and/or chemical spills. Safety files were also found to be a problem, with 22 establishments in trouble regarding those, and a further 19 establishments had problems with evacuation lighting, paths and locks. Altogether 19 establishments lacked the resources to deal with leaks. Other violations were also identified on the basis of the Fire Safety Act.
"The chemical safety raid proved that it was a necessary inspection of the field," Tahe said. "However, in some cases the Rescue Board does not have the right to issue precepts in respect of the circumstances established."
At the same time, key issues related to the chemical safety of establishments were identified and advice was given on how to better handle chemicals and deal with accidents.
The competence of the Rescue Board is to inspect buildings on the basis of the Fire Safety Act, as well as companies with a major accident hazard and dangerous enterprises on the basis of the Chemicals Act. However, in addition to large companies, all other companies or establishments with filling stations on their territory or that handle chemicals, including sports facilities, hospitals and health centers, schools and kindergartens with pools, waterparks and spas, manufacturing and industrial plants, may also pose a risk. The magnitude of the risk depends on several factors: the quantities of the chemical handled, whether the substance is only stored or also used in different processes, what prevention and mitigation measures have been implemented by companies, and so on.
During the chemical safety raid, information was requested on chemicals, compliance with chemical storage facilities, staff awareness and training on accident detection and actions in the event of an accident were assessed, including whether the necessary resources are available to deal with its consequences. The main focus of the inspection was on the storage of chemicals and its surroundings at the establishment.
There have been several accidents in Estonia in previous years, where too much chlorine solution has ended up in the pool water and human health has therefore been endangered. There have also been accidents where chemical containers have spilled and the chemical has leaked through the floor to the lower floor. There have also been accidents involving chemicals that are incompatible in nature and have thus created a dangerous situation. In addition, there have been a number of fires in buildings containing dangerous chemicals that have made rescue work more difficult.