Aerosol cans are so widely used in the workplace (and in the home) that staff (and domestic users too) often forget the risks to their personal safety when using the little cans. Are all your staff aware that even if the active ingredient inside the cans is not flammable (or even a hazardous chemical), those aerosols are still Class 2 Dangerous Goods?
This blog takes a look at the hazards presented to the workplace by aerosol cans and how to meet your legal obligations — ensuring that your staff receive adequate supervision and training. The handling and storage of aerosols must be managed in accordance with Australian safety regulations and your staff need to know their individual responsibilities as well.
Understanding the hazards of aerosol cans
Aerosol cans introduce three layers of hazards into a workplace. These include:-
- The chemical properties of the substances contained in the can. This is a combination of the active ingredient (eg, paints, solvents, adhesives); the propellant (eg, flammable hydrocarbons); and the solvent (eg, flammable methylal).
- The projectile potential of the canister if it ruptures or explodes. Workers have received devastating impact injuries as well as shrapnel wounds.
- The waste hazard if a faulty valve prevents the canister from emptying or if the contents are not used before the expiry date. Even ‘empty’ canisters still contain residues of the original contents and must be disposed of safely.
Most workplace accidents involving aerosols occur when staff leave the cans near equipment, operating plant and machinery (or in the sun) and they overheat and explode — from cans of cooking oil left too close to the hot plate, or tins of spray paint used to mark metal and steel while engaging in acetylene welding and cutting.
Aerosol cans have also exploded after rough handling — especially if bulk cartons of cans are dropped or impacted during loading, transfer and delivery. It’s important that staff know what to do if this has happened to a batch of cans they are about to use.
Storing and handling aerosols correctly
- The cans are undercover and protected from exposure to sunlight and the weather
- Full cartons of aerosols are protected from collapsing or falling
- Aerosols are isolated from heat, ignition sources and flammable liquids
- Sufficient projectile protection is provided
Having a dedicated cage also makes housekeeping and safe work practices easier for staff. The cages are colour coded and staff are quickly trained where to put the cans when they are not being used.
Staff also need training about correct methods of handling aerosols and how an aerosol can could increase the hazards of job they are doing. Eg, do your staff know what could happen if they use an aerosol can while cooking, welding, or operating plant and machinery that generates industrial heat?
Ensure that your staff know:
- The potential ignition sources present on the worksite (heat, direct sunlight, heaters, ovens, hot plates, gas pilot lights, static electricity, matches, lighters, exposed incandescent material, welding and cutting activities) and how likely they are to ignite an aerosol can.
- Not to smoke when using an aerosol (or immediately afterwards).
- Never to pierce an aerosol canister because seemingly empty canisters can explode.
- How to safely dispose the canisters.
- Never to leave aerosol cans in vehicles (especially the glovebox) as temperatures inside a vehicle can increase quickly.
- To only use aerosols in a well-ventilated area and always use appropriate PPE (masks, face shields, gloves, protective clothing).
- That spraying aerosols hear a naked flame, fire or source of ignition could cause an explosion
Safety training requirements
Ensuring your staff are suitably trained is a requirement of many Australian Standards including AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders. But your primary responsibilities are actually legislated by both the Workplace Health and Safety Act and Regulation current in your state or territory.
Your obligations for safety training include:
- Delivering a safety induction to employees or contractors before they commence working for you.
- Providing workers with information about the risks and hazards they face on the worksite.
- Making sure workers understand how to do their job safely as well as their individual responsibilities according to the law.
- Supervising your staff and delivering remedial actions and training if they are not following safety instructions or aren’t fully competent in their duties
The most effective safety training is delivered using a range of different methods (and at regular intervals). It’s more than job specific training, it’s about building safety awareness. Training your staff in aerosol safety can only be achieved through a combination of:
- Providing safety induction training that introduces workers to the range of hazards present on the worksite and the way aerosol cans contribute to accidents, fires and explosions. Workers also learn site rules, restricted areas and banned substances.
- Giving staff job specific training that includes procedures for introducing new equipment and hazardous substances onto the worksite — eg, reviewing Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and purchase approvals.
- Supervising staff and work areas and ensuring that aerosol cans are being used safely, not left lying around work benches or production areas, and are stored correctly.
- Creating a safety culture by delivering regular toolbox talks and safety forums that build aerosol safety awareness.
- Providing essential PPE, compliant aerosol cages, and chemical safety cabinets so staff have a safe working environment and the equipment they need to carry out their jobs.
For a more details about the risk and hazards of using aerosols why not download our free eBook Aerosol Safety and Storage? We take a closer look at some real world accidents caused by aerosol cans and outline the Australian requirements for storing them legally and safely. Download and read it today.