Safety Brief: Handling Anhydrous Ammonia

Oct 20, 2020

Safety Brief: Handling Anhydrous Ammonia
By Curtis Stahel, Safety Director
Harvest 2020 is moving along nicely and some of our customers and employees are thinking ahead to the application of anhydrous ammonia for the 2021 growing season. Anhydrous Ammonia is the most commonly used source of nitrogen for corn growers in our trade territory and because of that, we think it is important to share some tips for safety when working with this product. 

Anhydrous means “without water,” and consequently, this product is constantly seeking a source of water to satisfy its “thirst.” The average adult human body has a water content of around 60 percent. Because of this fact, anhydrous is detrimental to unprotected eyes and human flesh. When anhydrous ammonia contacts your eyes, the damage can range from mild irritation to complete blindness. On skin, anhydrous ammonia seeks out the water in the outer dermal layers of skin which can cause cell destruction, cell dehydration, and severe chemical burns.

When handling anhydrous ammonia, it is important for everyone to wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The Ag Partners safety motto is “Someone expects you home tonight!” and we want each employee and customer to go home every day to family and friends! The minimum PPE requirements for handling anhydrous ammonia include tight-fitting, splash-proof goggles that are either non-vented or indirectly vented. Handlers should not wear contact lenses when working with this product since contacts are held to your eye by a thin layer of water, and if exposed, the contact will become fixed to the eye causing severe damage when removed by a medical professional. Glove selection is just as important. Anhydrous Ammonia-approved gloves are the only safe choice for a worker. There are both insulated and non-insulated styles that can be used. It’s important to cuff the end of the glove to prevent dripping product from running down the arm and into the armpit, a perspiration area. It is also a good idea to test gloves for leaks. On a regular basis, simply dip them into water or run water over them. If your hands get wet the glove is damaged, discard and get another pair.

Knowing the proper emergency procedures is very important for everyone working with anhydrous ammonia.  Water, Water, Water! Water is the only antidote for this product. If exposed, the injured area should be continuously irrigated or submerged in water to dilute anhydrous from the affected area. Furthermore, skin cream, oils and salves, or lotions should never be used! These products are of petroleum base and will shed water instead of allowing for product dilution.

If an unforeseen event or release occurs:
  1. Activate Emergency Shutdown procedures by shutting off the supply of product (only if it can be done safely)
  2. Move upwind a safe distance away from the point of release
  3. Call emergency personnel
Weather conditions in our trade areas can change rapidly so workers handling anhydrous ammonia must be aware of what to expect from Mother Nature each day.

Complacency is the biggest threat to workers handling anhydrous ammonia and no one should become comfortable while working around this product. If they do, the likelihood of an accident, injury, or release of product increases. 

Let’s have a safe and successful fall ammonia season because Someone Expects You Home Tonight!

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