Dangers from Free-Flowing Solids
Free-flowing solids describes substances which are comprised of many small individual solid pieces which together can cause the same dangers as a liquid. Typical examples include sand or gravel, and are obviously common substances used in many places of work around the world, particularly construction sites.
Whilst technically sand and gravel are classed as solids because of the molecular make-up of each individual piece, their small size combined with the presence of thousands or millions of pieces gives the overall mass the same properties as liquids in terms of being able to take the shape of their container and allowing movement "through" the overall mass.
Of course, this means that the same dangers associated with liquids are also present from free-flowing solids. Whilst sand and gravel will usually be in relatively small bags, substances such as grain will typically be stored in large silos. Anybody unfortunate enough to fall into one of these silos will find the grain is similar to liquid in that the person will probably sink to the bottom and struggle to breathe, which can ultimately result in death. This is why free-slowing solids are just as much of a risk to the health and safety of workers as liquids are.
The Need for Health and Safety Training
A good health and safety training programme for staff members will include time spent going over the potential risks to health that are present from free-flowing solids, and will obviously be even more pertinent to those workplaces which have an increased risk of this danger such as construction sites or agricultural businesses. The training courses or sessions should also take into consideration other related risks. These include:
Falling From Height
Falling into a tall grain silo or other large container filled with free-flowing solids is dangerous, but so too is going the other way and falling a long way to the ground. Suitable precautions, working at height training and safety features all need to be combined to minimise the risks to those workers whose job role entails working at height.
Even if the quantity of the free-flowing solids is not enough for a person to fall in and get trapped, they are still likely to be stored in bags or other containers which are extremely heavy. There is therefore a strong probability of a manual handling injury occurring if the person has to lift or move these containers. Manual handling training will be essential in order to teach correct lifting/moving techniques and to minimise the risk of working days lost through workers having to take time off from work to recover from any manual handling related injuries.
The small nature of these individual pieces means that either they themselves or the dust that can be released when they are moved means that there is often a COSHH risk present where free-flowing solids are concerned, as exposure to the dust such as through inhalation can cause health problems, particularly when this exposure takes place over a long period of time.
As mentioned in the Manual Handling point above, bags of free-flowing solids are likely to be extremely heavy. Just as they can cause manual handling injuries, they are also cable of causing crush injuries if a person were to get a part of their body such as their foot or their hand between the bag and a solid surface.