5 Steps to Storing Chemicals Safely in the Workplace
Jun 28, 2018

5 Steps to Storing Chemicals Safely in the Workplace

Walter Ingles Walter Ingles

Here at STOREMASTA we’re serious about safe chemical storage so here is our quick five step plan to ensure the hazardous chemicals stored in your workplace are safe and comply with Australian WHS laws.

1. Identify the substances you are using

The first (and arguably the most important) step in storing hazardous chemicals safely is to identify each substance you have onsite to gain an understanding of their properties and their hazards. Is the chemical flammable, toxic or corrosive? Is it self-reactive or does is react to sunlight? Is it incompatible with other substances? Can it negatively affect the environment or aquatic life?

To find out you’ll need the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by the manufacturer, importer or supplier and then study them closely. The SDS will specify the storage requirements for the chemicals and any incompatible substances or environmental conditions that might cause an adverse reaction like a fire or explosion.

2. Assess the risks associated with the chemicals

Once you have identified the chemical and understand why it’s dangerous, you are ready to look more closely at each of the risks associated with it’s use. You might consider things like:-

  • risk of fire and explosion
  • risk of a gas leak and workers being asphyxiated
  • risk of corrosives reacting with metal and damaging buildings or plant
  •  risk of acute toxic liquids spilling and contacting workers
  • risk of workers developing cancer from long term exposure to carcinogens

We suggest you create a master list which specifies each of the chemicals you use onsite, collate all the SDSs, and then work your way through the list noting every risk and every hazard associated with every single chemical. It might look something like this …

Chemical Hazard Risk List

3. Systematically control each of the risks

Now it’s time to control each of the risks. To control risks and hazards in the workplace, WHS Managers and Professionals use a system known as the Hierarchy of Control. The Hierarchy of Control is an international standard, and you can use it too.

There are five control measures to consider when using the Hierarchy of Control and each should be performed in the following order.

  • Elimination (could you stop using the chemical?)
  • Substitution (could you use a different chemical that is less harmful?)
  • Engineering controls (could you design the workplace to reduce the amount of employees who are exposed to the chemical?)
  • Administrative controls (can you implement safe work methods?)
  • Personal Protective equipment (what protective equipment could be used to protect workers?)

Let’s now use the hierarchy of control in our petrol example from section 2 (above).

Chemical Hazard Risk control measure list graph 

The goal in risk control is to completely eliminate the risk if possible. PPE as a control measure (ie, having workers use personal protective equipment) should only be considered if all other control measures have been fully assessed.

4. Store the chemicals correctly

You know all about the substances, you know how they can cause harm, and you know the specific risks of storing them at your worksite. Armed with this information, you will be able to take proactive measures to ensure that the hazardous substances are stored in a safe and compliant manner.

When deciding on the best method of storage you should begin with the chemical’s hazard class (ie, flammable, gas under pressure, oxidiser, explosive) and the specifications outlined on the SDS. The SDS will quickly tell you whether the chemical should be stored indoors or outdoors, whether it needs to be separated from other substances (or even light), and how much ventilation it needs.

Let’s take a look at a few storage options …

Safety Storage Cabinets

For many chemicals, a lockable safety cabinet specifically designed for the chemical’s hazard class  is essential. Here are some examples …

  • explosives and detonators: A explosive storage cabinet with fully welded 2mm steel, timber lining,  powder coated finish, and a heavy duty internal locking system and hinges.
  • corrosives: A corrosive storage cabinets made from 100% high density polyethylene that has been tested for chemical resistance.  They should be completely metal-free and have lockable self-closing doors with integral pivot pins and no hinges.
  • flammable liquids: A compliant flammable cabinet, ideally with perforated shelving to allow free movement of air and high capacity liquid tight sump to contain any spills. The flammable cabinet should be manufactured in full conformance to AS1940.
Racks and gas cylinder storage cages

Racks and cages made from heavy-duty steel and mesh walls provide natural ventilation for storing aerosols, gas cylinders and bottles. They can be located indoors or outdoors and permanently secured using bolt down plates.

Other storage considerations
  • storing chemicals outside: outside, in an area with minimal traffic, is often the best place to store hazardous chemicals. Outside  storage areas benefit from natural ventilation and reduced human exposure to gas leaks and chemical spills. A chemical storage container that has been manufactured in full conformance to the Australian Standards is an excellent outdoor storage option.
  • storing chemicals inside: for chemicals that react to heat and sunlight, outdoor storage is often not possible. You might also store chemicals indoors if your outdoor areas are exposed to a lot of traffic, or operations involving heavy outdoor plant and machinery. And in some cases, there just is no outdoor areas available. When storing chemicals indoors you must implement some sort of ventilation system as well as a compliant spill containment bund.
  • incompatible substances: mixing and contacting incompatible substances can cause violent chemical reactions and explosions. Storing chemicals within their hazard class eliminates a lot of problems associated with leaks and breakages in the storage area. How far you separate incompatible substances will depend on the degree of risk.  
REMEMBER: Once all your hazardous chemicals are stored you should conduct another risk assessment and review all your control measures to make sure no new hazards have been introduced to the workplace.


5. Setup a system to sustain compliance

Workplaces are in a constant state of change: new chemicals are introduced to the worksite, work areas are relocated, operating procedures change. Reviewing your safety control measures is essential as you want to sustain a safe workplace and compliance to the WHS regulations. Remember the petrol hazard at the workplace in the examples above? When we review our control measures we discover that our administrative control has been ineffective.

 Chemical Hazards in the workplace 

Next Steps

As the example above highlights, an ongoing review system is essential. We suggest introducing a consistent Risk Management Procedure and recommend you read our recent blog Developing a safe workplace using the STOREMASTA Chemical Management Procedure to give you more of an idea about how it works. Or even better, download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace.Our eBook walks you step-by-step through the risk management process and provides you with an action plan and templates to implement a Chemical Management Plan at your workplace. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping business reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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