Keeping hazardous chemicals stable at the job site

Feb 20, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

If your worksite stores reactive or otherwise unstable chemicals you have a legal responsibility to make sure they are kept stable and do not decompose or react violently with another substance. This blog discusses some key considerations for storing reactive chemicals including explosives, oxidisers, and water reactives.

REMEMBER: If there are no means of eliminating or substituting a reactive/unstable chemical, you will need to consider introducing a combination of isolation, engineering, and administrative controls, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Researching and understanding reactive chemicals

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are always the starting point for researching any chemical hazard. When dealing with explosive and reactive chemicals you’ll want to pay close attention to the sections on:

  • Hazards - The GHS hazard class and statements (eg, Chemically Unstable gases, Category A).

  • Composition - Information on the ingredients that makeup the chemical (eg, The cylinder contains a porous material which in some cases contains asbestos fibres).

  • Handling and storage - Precautions for safe handling (eg, Take precautionary measures against static discharge) and conditions for safe storage (eg, Containers should not be stored in conditions likely to encourage corrosion).

  • Exposure controls and PPE - Recommendations for engineering/administrative controls (eg, Gas detectors should be used when flammable gases/vapours may be released) and PPE controls (eg, Wear safety glasses with side shields).

  • Stability and reactivity - Outlines possible hazardous reactions (eg, May decompose violently at high temperature); conditions to avoid (eg, High temperature) and incompatible substances (eg, Do not use alloys containing more than 65% copper).

When working through the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) we recommend liaising with your supplier, industry associations, as well as engaging the services of a Dangerous Goods specialist. Consultants who specialise in Dangerous Goods can also advise you on specific legislation, codes of practice, and Australian Standards that must be complied with.

Storing reactive and explosive chemicals

Careful storage is one of the most important hazard control measures for reactive and explosive chemicals. When installing a new chemical store take the time to consider how the store will:

  • Isolate the chemicals from people and work zones.

  • Segregate incompatible substances.

  • Keep the chemicals within an acceptable temperature range.

  • Be adequately ventilated.

Isolation and segregation

First consider the best location for the chemical store making sure it is away from people, manufacturing and work zones, sources of industrial heat, buildings and utility services (air con, heating etc), or anything else that could cause the chemicals to react dangerously.

Once you’ve decided on the location for your chemical stores you should also liaise with your Dangerous Goods storage specialist about the best ways to segregate the chemicals — very often this will be specified in an Australian Standard. We’ve listed below some segregation techniques to consider:

  • Minimum distances (eg, Class 2.1 Flammable Gases must be kept at least 3 metres from Class 2.3 Toxic Gases).

  • Barriers (eg, Class 2.1 Flammable gases can be separated from Class 2.3 Toxic Gases by using a barrier made from non-combustible material and impervious to either of the gases. The barrier must stand at least 1.5 metres higher than the tallest cylinder.)

  • Separate rooms or buildings (eg, Containing larger quantities of flammable liquids in a fire resistant room.)

  • External storage tanks (eg, Bulk tanks for petrol and other liquid fuels).

Your storage areas should be protected from impact, vehicle crashes, or other damage (eg, falling branches from trees) using robust barriers, bollards, and fences. They should also be secured from unauthorised people.

Temperature

Many reactive chemicals must be kept away from light and stored within strict temperature zones. You’ll need to carefully follow the instructions on the Safety Data Sheet and seek help from a Dangerous Goods expert or industry-based consultant. If your chemicals require low temperature storage never use domestic refrigerators and freezers as the thermostats and other electronics inside the units can ignite the chemicals from static discharge. Always use a temperature controlled Dangerous Goods store that has been manufactured to Australian Safety Standards.

Ventilation

Hazardous chemicals in storage can create dangerous fumes and vapour clouds; these can accumulate if the chemical store does not have sufficient ventilation. Again check the SDS to see if the chemical has an air-borne exposure standard, you may be required to install a complete series of hoods, ducting and exhaust fans or (depending on the chemical) having a perforated store located outdoors may be sufficient.

Training staff and and general housekeeping

It’s essential to ensure that your staff understand the risks and hazards of the dangerously reactive chemicals carried onsite. They must receive ongoing training to ensure they:

  • Correctly and safely handle, store, and segregate the chemicals.

  • Don’t use or keep reactive chemicals outside their expiry date.

  • Know how to respond to a chemical emergency.

  • Regularly check Dangerous Goods stores, bunds, gas cylinders, tanks etc for leaks and any sign of damage.

  • Carry out preventive maintenance and integrity testing on ventilation and fire protection systems.

Next steps

For a detailed guide to identifying and assessing all the hazards associated with the reactive chemicals and Dangerous Goods carried at your worksite download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. You’ll have all the information and tools you need to introduce a full risk management methodology. Download this free eBook 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 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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