Did you read Part 1 of our flammable liquids compliance series? We introduced you to the legislative framework that underpins safety laws in Australia and we outlined the key legislation that applies to Class 3 Flammable Liquids. In this new blog (Part 2) we’ll be taking a deep dive into the WHS Act and explaining how to apply it to the flammable liquids (and other Dangerous Goods) at your job site.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog uses a series of fictional examples to demonstrate the application of the WHS Act to Class 3 Flammable Liquids. They should not be used as the basis of a risk assessment.
Understanding the WHS Act
Every state or territory in Australia has a Work Health and Safety Act. Each WHS Act is based on the Model WHS Act (developed by Safe Work Australia) and are fundamentally the same. The WHS Act underpins all safety legislation in Australia and is in place to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the workplace. Its primary content is outlining the separate duties of everyone who is part of a workplace. This includes:
- Business owners and operators
- Managers and supervisors
- Workers and contractors
- Site visitors and customers
- Suppliers and importers
- Unions and employer organisations
The chief requirement of the WHS Act is for business owners and operators to provide a safe workplace and for workers (and others) to follow reasonable instructions and keep themselves safe at work (or while interacting with the organisation).
Primary requirements of the WHS Act
The primary requirements of the WHS Act that apply to flammable liquids are:
1. Duty of care
Every person in the organisation — business owners, directors, managers, supervisors, workers and contractors —has a WHS duty. A WHS duty cannot be transferred to another person.
- Business owners and operators: ensure the health and safety of everyone at the worksite. This includes including workers engaged in operations of the business, as well as other persons who may be visiting the premises — or even living on properties nearby. Eg, The business owner hires a HSE Manager who implements a risk management methodology that systematically identifies, assesses and controls all safety hazards (including the hazards associated with flammable liquids). The HSE Manager co-ordinates a WHS committee and together they develop mechanisms so that each hazard is periodically reviewed and safety compliance is sustained.
- Managers and supervisors: provide training and supervision to their workers, enforce safety policies and keep themselves safe. Eg, supervisors at the fuel transfer station carry out a pre-shift safety forum every morning before workers commence their duties. Supervisors would breach their duty of care if they allowed a new worker on their first shift to access fuel transfer equipment without proper training and supervision.
- Workers and contractors: follow safety instructions, use safety equipment and keep themselves safe. Eg, the employer issues chemical goggles and gloves to use while handling flammable liquids. Workers breach their WHS duties if they refuse to wear the PPE without justified reasons.
2. Safe work environment
The WHS Act requires you to provide and maintain a work environment without risks to health and safety. We find a lot of our clients struggle with this concept — after all, how can you store 2,000 litres of flammable liquids onsite and claim the work environment is free of risks and hazards? You can’t.
To fulfil your obligations, you will need to minimise the risk far as possible by:
- Identifying workplace hazards and assessing the risks they present to workers. Eg, 2,000 litres of unleaded petrol kept onsite. Petrol is highly flammable and explosive. Petrol is a significant health hazard being carcinogenic, a serious eye and skin irritant and hazardous if inhaled, ingested or swallowed.
- Assessing the potential consequences of those risks and the likelihood of them actually causing a dangerous event. Eg, 2,000 litres of flammable liquids could cause a catastrophic fire and explosion resulting the deaths of workers, the destruction of property, damage to the local community and natural environment.
- Putting measures into place that eliminate the hazard, or minimise the level the harm. Eg, you install a number of outdoor flammable liquids stores and locate them in an isolated location away from ignition sources and vehicles, then restrict access to the area.
- Carrying out regular inspections and reviews to monitor existing hazards and identify emerging safety issues. Eg, you engage independent Dangerous Goods Auditors to carry out monthly inspections on your flammable liquid’s stores, decanting stations and handling areas. The auditor’s report safety breaches and recommend corrective action.
3. Safe systems of work
You have an obligation under the WHS to provide safe systems of work. Safe work procedures also support your responsibility to provide a workplace free of risks and hazards. Examples of safe systems of work include:
- Introducing a visitor registration and monitoring system that restricts access to chemical storage and handling areas.
- Having a specific policy that prevents maintenance and welding work from being carried out in areas where flammable liquid storage cabinets and outdoor stores are located.
- Enforcing a buddy system when decanting or transferring larger quantities of flammable liquids.
- Carrying out pre-shift inspections of chemical stores, fuel transfer stations and safety cabinets
4. Safe use, handling and storage of substances
The WHS Act requires you to have measures in place for safely storing and handling all chemicals and Dangerous Goods. These must be suited to the individual properties of each chemical and take into consideration the quantities held onsite. Examples include:
- Keeping smaller quantities in a dual skinned Class 3 Flammable Liquid storage cabinet that has been manufactured to comply with the Australian Standards.
- Storing large quantities of flammable liquids outside in a dedicated flammable liquids store.
- Installing adjunct safety showers, eyewash units, fire fighting equipment and a keeping a Register of Hazardous Chemicals.
5. Information training supervision
You must provide sufficient training and supervision for your workers to fulfil the requirements of the WHS Act. Training and supervision is also presented in more detail in the WHS Regulations. Examples that relate to flammable liquids include:
- Having a formal induction program for new workers, contractors and site visitors which familiarises them with flammable liquids storage areas.
- On the job training to ensure your workers are aware of the chemical hazards associated with flammable liquids — and know how to keep themselves safe.
- Having supervisors enforce safe work practices.
Other requirements of the WHS Act
Apart from the duty to keep people safe (as well as protect the workplace and neighbouring environment) the WHS Act has several other specific requirements including:
1. Notifiable Incidents
In someone gets hurt, sick or dies at work, you have a responsibility under Section 38 of the WHS Act to immediately notify your WHS Regulator. You must also report dangerous incidents and near misses. Notifiable incidents are:
- Death or a worker or other person. Eg, a delivery driver is talking to a worker who is carrying out some welding work. The sparks ignite flammable liquids vapours from a nearby decanting station. Both the worker and the delivery driver are killed in the fire.
- Injuries that require hospital admission. Eg, a lab worker is sprayed with benzene and tries to flush the liquid from their eyes using the eyewash. They inhale chemical fumes. They are treated in hospital and stay there for several days under observation.
- Illnesses directly related to the workplace. Eg, a painter develops severe dermatitis after repeatedly handling paints and solvents.
- Dangerous incidents (even if no one was hurt). These include uncontrolled fires, explosions, uncontrolled chemical spills, machinery or plant dropped from height. Eg, 2 drums of fuel fall from a truck while being unloaded. The flammable liquid spills onto the concrete and some escapes into a nearby drain.
Apart from formally notifying the WHS Regulator of the incident, the WHS Act also requires you to secure the scene (and any physical evidence) until a WHS Inspector or government representative arrives at the workplace.
TIP: If you’ve had a dangerous incident or near miss occur at your workplace we encourage you to download our free eBook Key steps in a HAZCHEM incident investigation which takes you step-by-step through an entire HAZCHEM incident investigation.
2. Workplace consultation
You are required under Section 46 of the WHS Act to consult with your workers (and other relevant parties) on matters where their health and safety is likely to be directly affected. In terms of flammable liquids, you should consider consulting workers and contractors when:
- Significantly increasing the quantities of flammable liquids held onsite.
- Introducing a number of new chemicals onsite which are directly incompatible (and reactive) with flammable liquids.
- Changing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be used when handling flammable liquids.
- Developing fire prevention and emergency response procedures.
- Alterations to rosters which increase exposure times to flammable liquids listed in the workplace exposure standard.
If you are want to ensure that your Class 3 Flammable Liquids are stored legally and safely, why not download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors?
Read the whole series
Part 6 - Flammable Liquids Compliance (Part 6) other guidance materials