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3 Tips to Safely Manage Ammonia

10 April, 2024

Chemical Processing Facility
In refrigeration and HVAC, it's out with old, complex systems and in with new, efficient and sleek ammonia systems. When working with low-charge ammonia systems, managers need to follow process safety management that includes ongoing training.

In refrigeration and HVAC, it's out with old, complex systems and in with new, efficient ammonia systems. When working with low-charge ammonia systems, managers need to follow a safety management process that includes ongoing training.  

For manufacturers, suppliers, and end-users in refrigeration and HVAC, low-charge anhydrous ammonia is all the rage. Using the tiniest quantities of this economical gas, newer compact systems improve efficiency and provide cost savings.

Another benefit of using low-charge ammonia refrigeration systems is that it is much safer for workers. However, continuous risk assessments, emergency plans, and communication are still key to compliant, efficient, and safe ammonia management.

Understanding Ammonia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is among the top five chemicals causing injuries in acute incidents. The top two causes of the ammonia release accidents were equipment failure and human error. 

Recently, a worker was severely burned in an anhydrous ammonia incident at a beef processing plant in Nebraska. The company incurred 16 OSHA violations, including failure to comply with lockout/tagout rules and not following process safety management. 

"When employers fail to properly document procedures and control highly hazardous chemicals, there is the potential for unintentional releases that can result in serious and fatal injuries," said Omaha Area Director Jeff Funke. "By implementing and sustaining workplace safety and health programs, employers can monitor their processes to ensure safeguards are in place to protect workers." 

Before any work, employees should understand OSHA compliance for hazardous chemicals and basic ammonia fundamentals.

Complying with OSHA’s Process Safety Management 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines in place to prevent serious accidents with hazardous chemicals like ammonia. These practices are called OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard 

Here's a simplified breakdown of key parts of PSM: 

  1. Hazard Check: Find and check the dangers of using chemicals.
  2. Chemical Info: Keep detailed information about how dangerous each chemical is.
  3. Safety Plan: Make a plan to keep workers safe when handling dangerous substances like ammonia.
  4. How to Work: Write down how to safely perform tasks involving chemicals.
  5. Training: Teach workers how to properly work with chemicals.
  6. Equipment Check: Check that machines and systems with hazardous chemicals are working properly.
  7. Changes: Have a way to deal with any changes that could affect safety when using substances.
  8. Safety Review: Inspect chemicals before starting or making any changes.
  9. Emergency Plan: Plan for what to do in an emergency involving dangerous solutions.
  10. Checking Up: Check regularly that workers are following all the safety rules for chemicals. 

Protecting workers from ammonia in any workplace shouldn’t be an afterthought. Learning how to shield workers from ammonia will reduce injuries, lower its environmental impact, and improve productivity.   

Effectively Manage Ammonia 

While newer, compact systems are easier to maintain, ammonia handling still causes a huge problem for workers when there is a lack of organization and communication. Luckily, some practices can be incorporated into daily work life to ensure managing ammonia is as safe as possible. Here are three points to consider to help improve ammonia safety in the workplace: 


1. Communicate Clearly

Increasing safety awareness is all about influencing behavior. Safety managers can reinforce conversations on work on or around low-charge ammonia stations by using reminders that catch the eye of an employee or even a visiting contractor. For example:

  • Identify ammonia stations and their hazards using chemical notification signs.
  • List the contents, hazards, and other instructions on ammonia containers through HazCom labels.
  • Workers will know where ammonia pipes are, content pressure, and the direction of its flow through pipe labels.
  • Create boundaries to guide workers and traffic around ammonia systems using floor marking. 

2. Follow Through on Risk Management

Safety risk management starts with a job hazard analysis. This step is necessary when anhydrous ammonia is in use, according to OSHA. A hazard analysis not only identifies potential danger, but it also helps assess compliance. Warehouses should always ensure they are up to date with OSHA regulations. That’s why it’s important to continually perform a job hazard analysis and not just once. Put safety first with these strategies:

  • As part of preemptive maintenance, routinely schedule and inspect low-charge ammonia stations for safety and efficiency.
  • Place hazard warnings, operating information, and safety reminders directly where a worker will need them when working in or around low-charge ammonia systems.
  • Compile a written checklist of safety issues, identify hazards, and evaluate the risk. Include details about chemicals that are part of various tasks.
  • Monitor and test ammonia release and pressure relief alarm systems periodically.


3. Continuous Training

Worker in PPE driving a forklift loaded with chemical storage containersWhen companies don't keep up on their ammonia equipment and training, they learn the hard way which often results in injuries, fines, or outages. Breaking down the CDC's most recent ammonia exposure information, there was an average of 46 ammonia release incidents and 115 people injured per year over 10 years. While newer anhydrous ammonia systems improve safety, employers should still:


One way to learn more about handling chemicals is with DuraLabel’s free HazCom Instant Action Guide. In this guide, it provides maintenance tips, hazard communication best practices, and a facility inspection worksheet. 

Whether you need safety signs, pipe markers, or equipment labels--Toro Max and Kodiak Max are ready to transport anywhere you are. Get help crafting a system that will provide the safety communication you need. Call 1-888-326-9244 and one of our experts will guide you through the process.

Learn more about safety signs, and establish and reinforce industry best practices. Download our free  OSHA Safety Signs Guide.

Read Next:

 HazCom Plans Crucial in Preventing Employee Exposure

What is HazOp?

Get the HazCom Instant Action Guide
Learn more about HazCom labeling
establish and reinforce industry best practices.


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