HAZCHEM Safety: 3 steps to preventing chemical spills

Feb 7, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Even small chemical spills can create dangerous hazards especially if the substance is highly toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable. Even worse if multiple chemicals are involved and the spill occurs in a public place, close to the building’s ventilation system. This blog is about the steps you can take to prevent chemical spills: a combination of streamlined purchasing, good housekeeping and chemical storage, plus regular site inspections and safety audits.

REMEMBER: Under the WHS Act, an uncontrolled chemical spill or leakage is classed as a dangerous incident. The Regulator in your state or territory must be notified in writing as soon as possible after a chemical spill.

STEP 1: Purchasing minimal stocks of hazardous chemicals

An effective chemical management program has streamlined purchasing procedures. Build solid relationships with your suppliers and aim to keep stocks as low as possible. As quantities of hazardous chemicals increase so do the hazards — chemical spills involving larger volumes will release more air-borne contaminants, pose a greater threat to the environment, and create a wider flammable zone.

A supplier who is willing to deliver smaller quantities more often enables you to minimise the stocks you hold in your chemical stores. Your purchasing program should have procedures to ensure:

  • Orders are received at the designated time so staff are available to receive the chemicals.

  • Chemical deliveries are put away as soon as they are received.

  • Mechanical lifting devices, forklifts, and trolleys are available and in working order.

  • Workers have been suitably trained and receive enough supervision to ensure procedures are being followed.

WARNING: We often see in the chemical safety audits we conduct for our clients, stacks of chemical containers left outside or piled up next to pallets and chemical stores. Many of these clients have already invested in the correct chemical safety cabinets and bunded pallets, but a breakdown in their purchasing and delivery procedures has created an unnecessary spill hazard.

STEP 2: Chemical decanting and storage

One of the most effective ways to prevent chemical spills is to use secondary containment equipment when decanting and storing your hazardous chemicals. Secondary containment can either fully encapsulate the original container or sit underneath to catch leaks or splashes. To comply with Australian WHS legislation and safety standards you should consider:

  • Under-pallet bunding where packaged chemicals, drums and IBCs are stored on top of pallets.

  • Drip trays with raised edges for simple decanting areas.

  • Chemical safety cabinets with inbuilt spill sumps for flammable liquids, corrosives and larger quantities of any hazardous chemical.

  • Bunded drum dollies for moving chemicals around the warehouse.

Chemical stores and bunded pallets are useless as a hazard control measure if they overloaded or used incorrectly. Build into your safety procedures correct housekeeping practices so chemicals are put away swiftly after use, and containers are regularly inspected for use-by-dates, wear and tear.

WARNING: One the most unnecessary hazards we identify during chemical safety audits are bunds being overloaded or used incorrectly. We’ve seen stacks of hazardous chemicals left sitting on the ground while non-hazardous substances are stored on the bunded pallets. This issue could be easily rectified with suitable training and supervision.

STEP 3: Site inspections and audits

Regular site inspections and safety audits are essential for preventing chemical spills. Your safety audit evaluates the potential for chemical spills from both a macro-level and micro-level perspective. At a micro-level your site inspections would regularly review the integrity of chemical containers, safety cabinets, and under-pallet bunding.

Check for:

  • Leaking flammable liquids containers.

  • Worn, damaged, and loose fittings on gas cylinders.

  • Chemical containers left open or with missing/broken lids.

  • Old containers that have cracked or become brittle from years of use.

  • Chemical containers stacked improperly, or too high making them vulnerable to falling over.

  • Gas cylinders not correctly restrained.

From a macro-level your chemical audit would take a wider look at the quantities of hazardous chemicals kept in certain areas, and note work practices or plant and machinery in close proximity that could damage containers or impact/penetrate chemical stores.

Your audit checklist might contain trigger points and flags for:

  • Forklift trucks operating near chemical stores (could impact the store and cause a spill)

  • Bulk transfer or delivery vehicles turning near chemical stores (could impact the store)

  • Chemical stores located near perimeter fences (stores could be impacted by external vehicles, falling branches and tree debris)

  • Outside chemical stores (how long can the stores withstand bad-weather before materials deteriorate and leaks occur)

REMEMBER: An uncontrolled release of flammable, corrosive or toxic gases under pressure can be just as dangerous as a liquid chemical spill. Compressed gases are considered hazardous chemicals as well as Dangerous Goods and must be considered in your risk assessments for chemical spills.

Next Steps

When you use or store hazardous chemicals at your premises, preventing chemical spills is an important part of your safety program. Do you need help creating a chemical safety plan and using a risk management methodology to get your venue 100% chemical safety compliant? Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace today.

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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