Managing spill risk is an essential requirement under Australian WHS Regulations, and you must have measures in place to contain any possible leaks — as well as the resulting effluent. In this blog we’ll be outlining the key steps when assessing spill risk, especially when Class 3 Flammable Liquids are involved.
REMEMBER: Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinets provide excellent spill protection as each cabinet has a liquid-tight spill containment sump based on the capacity rating of the cabinet.
1. Identifying spill hazards
The first step in a chemical spill risk assessment is to identify every location on the worksite where flammable liquids are kept. This usually requires a physical walk around the site taking note of chemicals stores and observing workers who use flammable liquids on the job. Your notes will detail any spill hazards you have identified. For example:
- Loading dock - how could chemicals spill as they are being delivered to the site and unloaded?
- Chemical stores - are chemical stores protected from impact? Are the chemicals stored inside liquid tight flammable cabinets? Are chemicals put away promptly? Do containers have lids in place?
- Warehouse - do chemicals stored on pallets have sufficient bunding? Are pallets overloaded? Are workers using correct lifting aids?
- Decanting station - are workers using safe work practices that minimise splashing and over pouring? Are decanting stations protected with bunds and spill trays?
- Internal transfer - how are chemicals transferred between departments? Are correct manual handling practices employed? Do you use drum caddies or dollys?
- Work stations - do workers keep chemicals out on work benches? Do workers keep chemicals on trays when on the job? Do workers hand pour when fuelling machines and compressors?
- Waste handling - are waste chemicals isolated on bunded pallets and removed promptly?
- Miscellaneous - are there any chemicals onsite that have no spill protection (even temporary areas)?
2. Assessing physical, health and environmental risks
Once you have a list of spill hazards you’ll need to assess the risk that a chemical spill presents to the health and safety of your workers, your property and the environment.
Fires, explosions, chemical reactions
Flammable liquids that leak and spill can quickly spread to additional work areas — and if ignited burning liquids can travel down stairs and under doors. Your risk assessment will consider the likelihood of the chemicals igniting and if they did — how far the fire could spread.
You’ll need to know:
- What is the flashpoint and autoignition temperature of the chemicals, and what potential ignition sources are in the area?
- What could cause the chemicals to explode or react dangerously?
- Could the stability of incompatible chemicals or substances be compromised during a spill?
- Accessibility of fire equipment and spill kits.
- Fire risk during response, clean-up and disposal.
Even if the chemicals do not ignite, flammable liquids can create dangerous health risks for workers in the area as well as the clean-up crew. Consider:
- Acute health affects — can the chemicals cause immediate burns, eye damage, throat irritation, dizziness, nausea, impairment or death?
- Chronic health conditions — could workers responding to a chemical spill be exposed long enough to develop long term health affects like asthma, respiratory problems, or cancer?
Your risk assessment should include the potential damage if spilled chemicals penetrate drains or soil. Could the chemicals contaminate groundwater or pastoral lands? Could plants and wildlife be harmed in native forests or public gardens?
3. Determining risk severity
Next, determine the risk severity — which is another way of describing the actual risk to your business. To do this you will be looking at a combination of:
- Outcomes - if the chemicals did spill what would be the results? Eg, major fire, loss of property, multiple fatalities and injuries vs minor skin irritation, 30 minutes lost work time.
- Likelihood - how often are the chemicals used, handled? Eg, chemicals sitting permanently on the ground without bunding vs chemicals left overnight before being put away.
- Quantity - larger quantities of chemicals increase the risk severity. Eg, a jerry can of mower fuel spilling vs 10,000 litres of petrol.
- Toxicity - how toxic are the chemicals? Eg, a large spill of benzene that can contaminate groundwater vs diesel fuel splashing while decanting.
- X-factor - is there anything about your worksite that increases the risk severity? Eg, proximity to native forests.
The hazards that present the greatest risk to your business are the ones that (potentially) have the most catastrophic outcomes — and are the most likely to occur.
4. Creating an action plan
Finally, create an action plan which priorities the spill hazards that present the highest risk to your business — and the safety of your workers. One of the key benefits of carrying out a risk assessment is you can allocate financial resources and human capital to the areas of your business that are most vulnerable to chemical spills.
Storing your flammable liquids in purpose-built indoor safety cabinets is an excellent way of minimising spill risk. The cabinets are liquid tight and have a spill containment sump that meets Australian Safety Standards. For more information about how indoor safety cabinets can help minimise your spill compliance risk, please download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below.