Assessing off-site risks to your hazardous chemical stores

Feb 19, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

When carrying out a risk assessment on your hazardous chemical stores you also need to consider  off-site risks that are not part of your own operations, but could still create physical danger by triggering fires, explosions, and chemical reactions. This blog presents a number of off-site risks that could impact the hazardous chemicals stored at your workplace and a detailed list of things to consider in your chemical risk assessment. 

NOTE: We’ve included some extreme examples in the article — actual events triggered by off-site activities or the weather. It’s to give you an idea of the potential for danger. In many instances control measures will be liaising with relevant community groups and local business, while factoring the risks into a Chemical Emergency Plan.

Activities and installations on adjacent properties

Other workplaces and neighboring properties can increase the level of risk to your own. They can also introduce new hazards. Your risk assessment should consider:

  • Incompatible chemicals or Dangerous Goods stored on nearby premises that could ignite, detonate, or decompose. These materials could cause a dangerous incident on your own job site, or create an accident or fire at their property.

  • Combustible materials located within proximity to your job site. Things like paper, refuse, combustible liquids, firewood, construction supplies, wood pallets, even vegetation and forests could fuel a fire (or increase the intensity and range).

  • Work operations of neighbouring properties and agricultural lands: pesticide spraying, poor chemical storage and handling, heavy machinery, industrial heat and emissions.

  • Construction, earthworks, demolition, drilling and similar work on neighbouring sites that could cause structural damage to your buildings, pipework, or plant.

  • Vehicles and heavy machinery from outside sources breaching the site perimeter: car or truck accident, plane crash, backhoe breaching a fence/pillar/posts.

  • Fireworks from a music festival, concert, or party.

  • Emergency situation (fire, explosion, chemical spill) that reaches your site.

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to consider how a chemical emergency could impact neighbouring schools, hospitals, aged care facilities, residential zones, offices, shopping centres and other businesses.

Contractors, suppliers, and transport vehicles

Off Site workers, contractors and delivery drivers can introduce new hazards when they don’t understand site protocol or aren’t supervised correctly. Here are some examples:

  • Local farmers who are delivering grain, smoking in their trucks or freely wandering around the grain intake areas with electronics.

  • Site visitors or contractors bringing contraband substances, electronics, and potential ignition sources onto the job site.

  • Transport drivers leaving trucks or delivery vehicles running near bulk fuel tanks,  chemical stores, or decanting stations.

  • Trade contractors bringing faulty electrical tools or incompatible appliances into HAZCHEM zones.

  • Fly-in workers unfamiliar with the site carrying out maintenance work or repairs that produce heat and sparks near chemical stores.

  • Delivery drivers throwing gas bottles over the side of a truck or rolling them along the ground.

  • Supplier employees operating heavy machinery, forklifts, or trucks near chemical stores.

  • Unauthorised visitors or contractors accessing your HAZCHEM stores and gas bottle cages.

Weather patterns and natural disasters

How could extreme weather — floods, cyclones, heatwave or a wild storm — impact your hazardous chemical stores? If your HAZCHEM store is located outdoors could it be damaged by wind, hail, lightning, or heavy rain?

Bulk package stores or chemical storage tanks with a high volume storage capacity have the potential to cause catastrophic environmental and property damage. While changes in temperature affect the properties of most substances including their explosive range.

Potential hazards include:

  • Chemical stores penetrated by flying tree branches or building debris.

  • Lightning strikes in and around chemical stores.

  • Floods uprooting buildings and chemical tanks.

  • Warning placards and signs blown away.

  • Reduced visibility in heavy rain or fog.

  • Chemical overheating during heat waves.

  • Damage from a natural disaster isolates the job site from critical suppliers and maintenance crews.

EXTREME EXAMPLE: During a flood in Egypt flammable liquids were released from a damaged aviation fuel depot and were ignited by a lightning strike. The burning fuel was then dispersed through villages and towns by floodwaters — many people were killed and the economic damage was enormous.

Equipment, power and supply failures

Natural disasters, floods and storms can also cause lengthy power-cuts and water shortages but this can also happen due to scheduled maintenance. Your risk management plan should also factor unplanned machinery breakdowns and power failures. More specifically:

  • Onsite or offsite caused power failures that impact ventilation systems (including exhaust fans and fume hoods); air monitoring and exposure alarms.

  • Power failures that affect temperature controlled chemical stores.

  • Cuts to water supply, or reduction in water pressure.

  • Machinery faults and breakdowns.

  • Suppliers failing to deliver fuel and replacement chemicals

REAL WORLD EXAMPLE: A power outage at an aluminium processing plant stopped all the pumps (including the ones controlling heat exchange and cooling). Temperatures and pressure increased until the pressure relief valves overloaded. A number of vessels containing corrosive chemicals exploded injuring 29 employees and causing extensive property damage.

Next Steps

Now you have a greater understanding how events, activities and people (who aren’t even part of your workplace) can impact chemical safety, we encourage you to  download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We detail how to incorporate these external risks and hazards into your risk management plan and give you a step-by-step guide to reaching 100% chemical safety compliance. Download it now by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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