Compressed gases in cylinders: when do you need a risk assessment?

Oct 4, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Compressed gases in cylinders are dangerous goods and must be stored and handled carefully. Here at STOREMASTA we have developed our own risk management methodology IDENTIFY - ASSESS - CONTROL - SUSTAIN to ensure that every hazard associated with gas cylinders (as well as other dangerous goods) used or stored at workplaces and job sites are managed correctly. This blog looks at the risk assessment process, and why we consider it an essential safety and compliance step at worksites carrying gas cylinders.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment examines a series of workplace hazards and estimates the type of dangerous incidents or workplace accidents that could be triggered by the hazard. For gas cylinders these might include: exposure to toxic gases, fires, explosions, or manual handling injuries from carrying heavy cylinders. The risk assessment then takes a deeper dive and determines:

  • The severity of the hazards (could anyone be killed? could the workplace be damaged? how about the environment?)
  • How likely an accident or dangerous incident is to happen
  • What is currently being done to control the risks
  • Which risks are the most urgent and require immediate action

When dealing with a ‘known hazard’ there will always be associated ‘known control measures’ — these are well established and acceptable measures for meeting safety compliance. When known control measures are implemented, in some instances the full risk assessment process is not required by the WHS Act and Regulations.

IMPORTANT: The Safe Work Australia Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks is an approved code of practice under Section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act. Consult this code of practice to ensure your risk management methodology is up to standard.

Why you should conduct a full risk assessment on your gas cylinder handling and storage areas

Even though a full risk assessment may not be required at some workplaces, compressed gases in cylinders present a complex range of hazards. The cylinder hazards are exacerbated by the combination of:

  • Pressure (mechanical energy in a gas bottle is similar to a car travelling at 180km)
  • Chemical properties of the gases (toxicology, flammability, stability)
  • Physical nature of the cylinders (long slim design, heavy, bulky, slippery)

In many cases it can be difficult to assess how the hazards could interact with one another to create new or greater risks. For this reason we at STOREMASTA recommend using a full risk management methodology to ensure that all gas cylinders hazards are identified; each hazard is thoroughly assessed; adequate control measures are introduced (based on the unique operational requirements of your worksite); and regular reviews are conducted so that safety compliance is sustained.

IMPORTANT: A risk assessment is mandatory under WHS Regulations for high risk activities including: entry into confined spaces, diving work and live electrical work.

STOREMASTA risk management methodology

The STOREMASTA risk management methodology was specifically designed in-house for workplaces and job sites carrying hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods. Even though it consists of a simple four step process, it leaves nothing to guesswork or chance — ensuring that every hazard is identified and controlled. Follow the steps and nothing is missed.

STEP 1 - IDENTIFY the hazards
Begin by identifying each of the gases, cylinder types and sizes, and where they are stored. Usually this is done in consultation with the staff who are actually handling the gases, as well as the suppliers who will provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and valuable insights into other potential dangers.

When identifying hazards you should also consider:

  • Chemical properties of the gases and what other dangerous goods, incompatible substances, materials, or equipment are present at the worksite
  • Adequacy of job tasks, operating procedures, and staff training already in place
  • Layout and design of the workplace
  • Existing safety equipment, PPE and emergency management plans

STEP 2 - ASSESS the risk to workplace safety
After identifying each cylinder hazard you should now consider the:

  • Types of dangerous events that could be triggered by the hazards (decomposing acetylene cylinder = fire and explosion)
  • Severity of the incidents (fatalities, destruction of property, damage to the environment)
  • Likelihood of a dangerous event occurring (has it happened before? how many workers use acetylene? has everyone been suitably trained?)

Step 2 helps you prioritise the hazards so you begin controlling those most likely to happen and have the most critical consequences.

STEP 3 - CONTROL measures are introduced to minimise the risks
In step 3 we apply each of the 5 elements of the Hierarchy of Control to all the hazards. So for every single gas cylinder hazard on your list you will consider:

  1. Elimination (could you stop using the gas altogether?)
  2. Substitution (could you use a gas that is less harmful?)
  3. Engineering (what changes to workplace design or operating equipment could you install to minimise the harm?)
  4. Administration (what safe job methods and operating procedures could you introduce?)
  5. PPE (what PPE could be used by workers to prevent exposure to the gases?)

IMPORTANT: PPE doesn’t actually control a hazard, it merely places a barrier between the worker and the hazard. It should only be introduced alongside other measures.

STEP 4 SUSTAIN - Compliance by conducting regular reviews
Step 4 is key to ensuring that your workplace is 100% safety compliant. It ensures that you conduct a follow up risk assessment to determine the effectiveness of each of the control measures you introduced PLUS identify any new hazards introduced in the process.

A clear example of this might be the decision to switch the warehouse forklifts over to diesel fuel instead of using LPG cylinders. Now the LPG cylinders have been substituted for another chemical, you’ll need to assess the impact of the diesel fuel on the workplace and the new hazards it may introduce.

Ultimately the STOREMASTA methodology operates in a circular fashion until each hazard is 100% controlled and safety compliance is achieved. You’ll then implement regular reviews and follow up risk assessments, determined by changes at the worksite or as a direct response to an accident or near miss.

Next Steps

For more a more detailed look at the STOREMASTA risk management methodology (including guidelines for applying it to the gas cylinder risks and hazards at your own worksite), please download our free eBook Gas Cylinder Storage: Compliance and safety requirements. We demonstrate the methodology using real world examples and case studies. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below.

gas cylinder storage: Compliance and safety requirements

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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