How to safely store chemicals in the laboratory

Mar 28, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

A common hazard found in laboratories is the risks associated with dangerous chemicals. There are 9 classes of dangerous goods and each class poses specific hazards to people, property and the environment. To protect yourself and others from these dangerous chemicals, it’s important that you store dangerous chemicals in a safe and compliant manner. Safe chemical storage will mitigate the risk of fires, explosions, asphyxiation, suffocation and acid burns. To ensure that your chemical storage is safe you must follow strict guidelines set out in the Australian Standards. Below we will discuss these standards and the requirements for safe chemical storage

Australian Chemical Storage Standards

The Australian Chemical Storage Standards are documents that define the specifications, procedures and guidelines for the storage and handling of dangerous chemicals. The specific standard that sets out the requirements for the storage and handling of dangerous chemicals in laboratories is AS/NZS 2243.10-2004. This standard outlines the requirements for matters relating to operational safety when storing dangerous chemicals. For matters relating to the design and construction of dangerous goods storage cabinets, the specific standard for the class of dangerous goods being stored must be consulted. For example, AS 1940-2017 must be consulted for specific detail relating to the design and construction of cabinets used to store Class 3 - Flammable Liquids.

Section 3 of AS/NZS 2243.10-2004 sets out the requirements for storing dangerous chemicals in laboratories. Specific topics outlined in section 3 will be discussed below.

Hazard Identification Information

When working in the laboratory, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with the dangerous chemicals that are stored in the lab. This can be achieved by displaying clear hazard identification information. Section 3.5 of AS/NZS 2243.10-2004 sets out the requirements for Hazard Identification Information in laboratories. This standard states that clear dangerous goods signage must be placed on all doors entering the laboratory and on cabinets being used for the storage of dangerous chemicals.

The signage used to identify the dangerous goods being stored in the laboratory must follow strict guidelines. These guidelines are outlined in the National, State and Territory Regulations. All dangerous goods signage must also comply with the Australian Standard AS 1216-2006 - Class Labels for Dangerous Goods. This standard outlines the accepted designs for all placards used to identify dangerous goods. 

Laboratory Cupboards

Section 3.4 of the Australian Standard AS/NZS 2243.10-2004 gives you the provision to store hazardous chemicals in laboratory cupboards if they meet certain requirements. These requirements include:

  • The cupboard is constructed from a material that is compatible with the chemical being stored.
  • Isn’t constructed from particle board (because it will fail when subjected to moisture)
  • The cupboard has spill trays
  • Has adequate ventilation if it’s required as an essential risk control measure e.g in a situation where flammable, volatile, toxic or corrosive vapours are present.

We strongly recommend that you do not use a cupboard for the storage of hazardous chemicals in the laboratory. For safe chemical storage, the facility used must have a number of critical features to minimise the risk posed by the hazardous chemicals. These features include:

  • Constructed from non-combustible material. This ensures that the contents inside the cabinet are insulated in the event of a fire.
  • Coated or constructed from a non-corrosive material. This ensures that the structural integrity of the facility is not destroyed from corrosive chemicals.
  • Vent ports that allow a compliant ventilation system to be installed on the cabinet to keep the vapours inside the facility below the workplace exposure standards.
  • A sump at the bottom of the facility to contain any spills that may occur inside the facility.
  • Self-closing self-latching doors. This ensures that the hazardous vapors inside the facility don’t fill the laboratory.

Laboratory cupboards do not have these important features. This makes them an unsafe and dangerous method for storing hazardous chemicals. Chemical storage cabinets that have been constructed in full conformance with the relevant Australian Standards make a perfect solutions for safe and compliant chemical storage.   

Chemical Storage Cabinets

Any dangerous chemicals that are used in the lab must be stored in a complaint chemical storage cabinet. All dangerous chemicals pose different risks upon people, property and the environment. To ensure that your chemical storage cabinet will adequately protect you from the risks associated with the hazardous chemicals, you must first identify the classification for the dangerous chemical that you are seeking to store. This information can be found on the Safety Data Sheet for the chemical that you are seeking to store. Once you have classified the chemical, you must then find a cabinet that is designed to safely store that classification of dangerous goods. To ensure that you find the correct cabinet for the chemical you are storing, you can use a free online dangerous goods solution finder.

A chemical storage cabinet that has been manufactured in full conformance to the relevant Australian Standard will protect the dangerous chemicals inside the cabinet from damage and contamination. A cabinet will also provide compliant segregation between incompatible classes of dangerous goods. In the event of a fire, a chemical storage cabinet will provide at least 10 minutes for people working in the lab to escape, or to use fire fighting equipment to suppress the fire.


Cabinet Location

For safe chemical storage, it’s also important to position cabinets in a safe location. All chemical storage cabinets, regardless of their size or type must not be stacked on top of one another. Cabinets containing dangerous chemicals should not be placed under stairs or corridors. To ensure that everyone working in the lab can safely escape in the event of a fire, chemical storage cabinets must not be placed in a position where they will jeopardize an emergency escape route. To ensure that cabinets don’t hinder emergency escape routes they must be positioned at least 3m from emergency escape doors.

To minimise the risk of fires chemical storage cabinets must be segregated from ignition sources. If a cabinet is storing flammable liquids or substances that emit flammable vapours, it must be positioned at least 3 meters from all ignitions sources. Ceiling lights are an exception to this requirement.  

Cabinet Ventilation

Ventilation of most chemical storage cabinets isn’t required unless it’s part of an essential risk control measure. If the cabinet is storing substances that release volatile, extremely toxic or corrosive vapours, a compliant ventilation system will be required. A complaint ventilation system will remove the vapours inside the cabinet and disperse them into the outside atmosphere. The dispersing location should be away from any ignitions sources and places where people congregate. The ventilation system shouldn’t substitute a vapour-tight chemical storage cabinet. The technical design of the ventilations system depends on the specific nature of the vapour that is being removed. In all cases the ventilation system must be vapour-tight and not allow vapours to escape into the lab.

Next Steps

If you are storing dangerous chemicals in your lab, it’s important that you store them in full conformance to the Australian Dangerous Goods standards. This includes safe segregation of incompatible classes of dangerous goods. For more information on how to safely segregate incompatible classes of dangeorus goods, download our free eBook by clicking on the image below 👇. 

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Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping businesses reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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