If your workplace uses, handles or stores any type of Class 3 Flammable Liquids you are legally obligated to prevent chemical leaks and spills — plus, have systems in place for spill containment and effluent disposal. In this blog we’ll be looking at the hazards that emerge from chemical spills, how they happen and your responsibilities under WHS legislation. Use our blog as the basis of your next risk assessment.
Hazards associated with chemical spills
Even small leaks and spills of Class 3 Flammable Liquids can be very dangerous. When carrying out your chemical spill risk assessment you’ll want to thoroughly read the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for each of the chemicals and identify the potential hazards.
- Fire - spilled flammable liquids can soak into rags, uniforms, cardboard cartons, wooden shelving, doors, pallets, soil and concrete. Even if the chemicals don’t ignite immediately, there is a risk of fire until a proper clean-up can be carried out.
- Explosion - just 1 litre of spilled flammable liquids can produce up to 5,000 litres of explosive vapour. Increases in temperature (or pressure) can also make flammable vapours more volatile.
- Reaction - if spilled chemicals come into contact with incompatible substances, dangerous reactions can occur. Sudden releases of heat, pressure and toxic gas are all possible.
- Asphyxiation - vapours from flammable liquids are heavier than air and can accumulate in low lying areas (trenches, pits) or fill a small room. Unprotected workers entering the area can be asphyxiated and die.
- Chemical burns - spilled fuels and other flammable liquids are often released at pressure and in large quantities. Workers sprayed with the chemicals (even if they don’t ignite) can suffer chemicals burns to the skin and eyes.
- Poisoning - workers in the immediate area of a chemical spill can be overcome by toxic fumes or absorb chemical toxins through their skin. Spilled chemicals released at pressure can also be ingested or accidentally swallowed.
- Environmental damage - spilled flammable liquids can easily penetrate soil, and enter drains, and waterways. Some chemicals (eg, some forms of benzene) are highly toxic to groundwater and even small quantities can contaminate human drinking water. Spilled liquids can also be toxic to wildlife, vegetation, and aquatic organisms.
How chemical spills occur
A chemical spill can be as simple as dropping a container or knocking over a drum with the forklift. We’ve listed below some real-workplace examples of chemical spills that have happened. In many cases workers were killed or seriously injured.
- Transfer hose comes loose - fuel hose detaches and sprays large quantities of fuel onto workers, vehicles and the ground. Fuel ignites.
- Machinery malfunctions - a seal on a filter connection malfunctions on a hydraulic powered machine. Flammable liquids spray out and ignites
- Decanting spillage - trying to pour fuel oil from an open bucket into a large drum, oil runs down the side of the drum and spills onto the ground. Fuel ignites.
- Tank tips over - a bulk tank of chemicals (sitting on a truck trailer) unbalances and 7,000 litres of fuel begins to spill out. Workers are immersed and burned.
- Overfilling a tank - using one hand to pour fuel into a petrol-powered engine. Fuel spills everywhere and ignites.
- Handling error - delivery crews drop a carton of insecticide, 8 bottles of chemical break and spill on the ground. Warehouse is shut down and quarantined until spill can be cleared.
- Rupture pipework - a crew digging a trench discover an unmarked pipe, uncertain of the contents they continue digging and rupture the pipe. The liquid inside the pipe ignites.
REMEMBER: Your risk assessment should consider the hazards associated with the chemicals, how they are received onsite, how they are transferred and put away, how they are decanted, how they are stored, and how they are used.
Duties under WHS Legislation
Under the WHS Regulations you have four key responsibilities if there is any risk of chemical leaks and spills at your workplace. These are:
- Having a spill containment system in place. Eg, putting chemical drums on bunded pallets, storing flammable liquids inside a safety cabinet with a liquid tight spill compound.
- Ensuring your spill containment system doesn’t create a compatibility hazard. Eg, segregating chemicals correctly and not allowing incompatible chemicals to share the same bund or spill sump.
- Having spill response equipment and procedures in place, plus ensuring that chemical waste and effluent is disposed of safely. Eg, having a compatible spill kit at your flammable liquids decanting station.
- Protecting stored chemicals from impact, as well as damage through excessive stacking or loading. Eg, relocating chemical containers from unstable stacks to a flammable liquids cabinet — where they are also protected from being impacted by falling items, flying debris and workplace vehicles.
Keeping flammable liquids in a compliant safety cabinet (manufactured to AS1940:2017 – The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids) is an essential step in chemical spill management. Why not download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors to learn more about how a Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinet can help you meet your chemical compliance obligations. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: