HAZCHEM SAFETY: why a risk assessment is a workplace essential

May 14, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

A HAZCHEM risk assessment is simply a way of identifying chemical hazards and the ways they could harm the health of your workers, property, or the environment. At the same time a risk assessment evaluates the likelihood of any of this harm actually occurring. And even though carrying out a risk assessment is not compulsory under Australian WHS legislation, we consider it an essential step to chemical safety compliance. This blog presents our top three reasons for carrying out a risk assessment on the chemical hazards at your workplace.

1. Complexity

Chemical hazards are extremely complex and even the most commonly used chemicals can present a labyrinth of hazards that are impacted (or even created) by the way each chemical is used, stored, or handled. Consider the complexity of hazards that surround a simple LPG cylinder used to fuel forklift trucks.

  • Fire hazard: LPG is flammable and can quickly ignite from open flames, sparks, and static electricity. The vapours can travel long distances and can create a long flashback if ignited. Eg, gas leaking through a loose fitting could leave a vapour trail through the warehouse and ignite. The fire could quickly spread.
  • Explosion hazard: LPG is denser than air, so leaked gas can accumulate in low lying areas like pits, drains, and basements. Eg, gas from a leaking cylinder could build up in a confined space and explode when ignited.
  • Asphyxiant hazard: when LPG is released into a tight or confined space it can create an oxygen deficient environment by displacing the oxygen from the air. Workers entering the area can collapse and die from asphyxiation. Eg, A leaking cylinder in an unventilated storeroom could create an asphyxiation hazard.
  • Cold-burn hazard: when LPG gas is rapidly released it can create cold-burn and frostbite injuries. Eg, a damaged valve could cause the gas to release rapidly and a worker attempting to shut off the valve might receive 2nd and 3rd degree burns to their hands. [note: this did actually happen in the USA]
  • Cylinder projectile hazard: all compressed gases are stored at high pressure and the sudden release of gas (impact, rupture, failed valve) could project the cylinder dangerously Eg, the  valve fails and the cylinder launches and impacts the chest or head of a worker.
  • Manual handling hazard: LPG cylinders are heavy, bulky and awkward, attempting to carry them by hand can create a manual handling injury (or worse). Eg, a worker carrying LPG cylinders downstairs drops the cylinders which explode after rupturing during the impact. [note: this did actually happen in the USA and 2 workers were killed].

Chemical hazards can be intensified during periods of high production, heavy staff turnover, storms and flooding, and a HAZCHEM risk assessment systematically identifies each and every area a hazard exists.

2. Compliance

A risk assessment is an excellent way of addressing and monitoring chemical compliance issues. The use and storage of many hazardous chemicals is regulated by WHS legislation and Australian Safety Standards and your risk assessment can be structured to identify chemical hazards which have mandatory controls.

In our earlier example of the LPG cylinder hazards, a risk assessment could also flag areas of compliance and prioritise them for immediate attention. Compressed gases must be stored and handled according to Australian Standard AS 4332:2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders and has a number of minimum requirements including:

  • Segregating LPG and other flammable gases from other gas classes (eg toxic gases, non-flammable gases).
  • Storing empty and full cylinders separately.
  • Keeping flammable gases away from vegetation, ignition sources, heat, refuse, building openings (doors, windows, vents).
  • Displaying signs and warning placards.
  • Ensuring lighting in chemicals stores is installed and tested correct.

Your initial risk assessment would document hazards that have mandatory controls and identify any issues of non-compliance. Follow-up risk assessments and review audits would monitor each hazard and ensuring compliance is sustained.

3. Economy

In the interests of economy, a HAZCHEM risk assessment is essential. If we return to our long list of hazards associated with LPG cylinders, it would be very easy to spend a huge amount of money, time, and energy dealing with all those possible hazards. But one of the most important functions of a risk assessment is to evaluate the likelihood of a dangerous incident actually occurring. That way you can allocate resources in the areas most needed and give priority to the hazards that have the highest potential for harm.

EXAMPLE: Your LPG cylinders are stored in a gas bottle cage located outside and the cylinders are changed in an open area. A risk assessment would flag the asphyxiation risk as low risk and prioritise action toward the hazards which are most likely to occur.

Next Steps

Are you ready to conduct a HAZCHEM risk assessment? Why not download our free eBook How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. We explain how to conduct a full risk assessment on the chemical hazards at your own workplace or job site as well as decide on the most effective chemical controls. Download it and read today 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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