Whether you’re supervising a small business or managing a national company, maintaining compliance in your chemical stores is an ongoing consideration. While conducting risk assessments, implementing controls and training personnel are key for chemical safety, the inspection and maintenance of these systems is crucial for the ongoing success of the system. But how can you maintain a high standard of compliance — without wasting valuable time or resources? In this post, we’ll be sharing our 10 top tips for maintaining compliant chemical cabinets. Our guide will run you through the key steps that your team can take to ensure they stay on top of their compliance obligations for your indoor chemical stores.
But first, let’s take a look at the WHS Regulations, to learn more about the maintenance obligations for Australian organisations that handle and store hazardous chemicals.
The WHS Regulations 2021 states that the maintenance of chemical controls is a responsibility of every person conducting business or an undertaking in an Australian workplace.
In Chapter 7 Hazardous Chemicals, Subdivision 4 Storage and handling systems, the Regulation explains that:
When controlling risks from storage or handling systems, businesses must ensure, as so far as is reasonably practicable, that the system is:
- Used for the purpose for which it was designed, manufactured, modified, supplied or installed; and
- Is operated, tested, maintained, installed, repaired and decommissioned with regard to the health and safety of workers
Not only is it crucial to choose compliant dangerous goods storage systems, it’s important to make sure that the equipment is used and maintained correctly.
This includes the regular testing, installation, repairs and maintenance of your chemical cabinets and other controls.
DID YOU KNOW? Information, training and instruction must be provided to any personnel who are involved in the operation, testing, maintenance or decommissioning of a risk control system? This includes dangerous goods storage and handling equipment, including indoor chemical cabinets.
Why Is Maintenance Important?
While we’ve highlighted the requirement for ongoing inspection and maintenance of chemical controls, it’s even more important to understand how maintenance can affect the safety and compliance of your stores.
In busy workplaces, it can often be easy to overlook compliance issues due to lack of time, knowledge or awareness of the problem.
There are many things that can affect the compliance of your chemical cabinets and other controls.
These factors include:
- Chemical inventory – your chemical cabinet should be purchased to suit the quantity and type of hazardous chemicals that you hold onsite. If there are any changes to the products that you hold, or how much you’re storing, this can affect the compliance of your existing storage.
- Staff – hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods must be handled and stored by staff who are properly trained and supervised. If there are any new staff in your organisation who don’t receive the proper training, they could overlook maintenance issues in your chemical store.
- Operations – most businesses are in a constant cycle of change and growth. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your controls are still working for your organisation. Reviewing and maintaining your existing controls allows your workplace to determine whether your systems are still suitable for your operations.
- Damage and Age – just like any piece of equipment in your organisation, from your laptop to your forklift, safety cabinets and chemical controls can be subject to deterioration and damage. If your cabinets aren’t in optimum working order, they can’t provide protection for your business — and may put you at risk for non-compliance.
While there are specific maintenance procedures that you can develop for your chemical storage areas (once you’ve completed a thorough onsite risk assessment), there are some general tips that we can offer to help you on your way towards maintaining compliance.
Our Top 10 Tips For Keeping Safety Cabinets Compliant
Read on to find out our top 10 tips for maintaining safety with your indoor hazardous chemical cabinets.
Tip #1: Placement
Where and how you install your safety cabinets is the first step on your journey towards compliance.
The placement of your safety cabinets will be determined by many factors including accessibility and space. However, when choosing where to install your cabinet, you must also consider the following points:
- Is your cabinet placed in a position that impedes emergency evacuations?
- Are you creating further risks by installing your cabinet in that particular spot?
- Are there any open areas or mezzanine levels directly above your preferred cabinet position?
- Will your cabinet be placed in an area free of ignition sources?
- Is there adequate ventilation in the space to reduce the risk of asphyxiation and human harm?
Whether you’re installing a cabinet for the first time or relocating an existing store, make sure you assess the compliance of your safety cabinet placement and installation.
REMEMBER: When working out the placement for your cabinet, we suggest you refer to the Australian Standards. The relevant standard will explain all the storage requirements, including placement, for your particular class of dangerous goods.
Tip #2: Installation
Are you confident that you understand all the requirements for a compliant chemical cabinet installation? There are many factors to consider when your team are navigating an installation in your workplace.
Some points to discuss will include:
- Is the cabinet installed on flat, even surface?
- Has the installation retained the integrity of the cabinet and its components?
- Are the doors self-closing tightly?
- Have you followed all the requirements that relate to your particular cabinet, such as flammable cabinets over 250 litres not being installed against common walls)?
- Is your lighting in the work area complying with safety standards?
- Have you determined the need for safety showers, eye wash systems or first aid equipment?
- Are your chemical SDS within easy reach of the cabinet?
- Is all dangerous goods and hazard signage firmly in place?
- Does the cabinet require anchoring?
To maintain compliance, ensure that the installation of your cabinet meets all the relevant requirements.
Tip #3: Cabinet Contents
If you’re new to dangerous goods storage, here’s the best tip we can give you: always make sure that you only store the correct class of dangerous goods in your cabinet.
When selecting your cabinet, there are usually 2 key considerations. These are the dangerous goods class of the chemical and the quantity required for storage.
Never allow staff to mix chemical classes within the cabinet or store other items in (or on) the safety cabinet. The only exception to this rule is when cabinets are used within a laboratory setting. Check the laboratory standards for further information.
Storing inappropriate items (such as paperwork, cleaning rags or tools) or other chemicals within your cabinet can increase the risk of a dangerous reaction, fire or explosion.
Tip #4: Chemical Packages
Whether you’re storing plastic containers or small drums, your chemical packages must be suitable for the class of chemical that you’re storing.
You must also make sure that your packages are tightly secured, safely placed and in good working order. An old, split or dented chemical package can increase risk for your business.
By regularly inspecting and maintain your hazardous chemical packages, you can bolster the safety of your indoor chemical stores.
Tip #5: Spill Management
One of the key control measures that your chemical cabinets provide is protection from hazardous spillage. A compliant cabinet will be fitted with a spill containment sump that is adequate for the containment of any leaks or spills.
However, if there is a chemical spill within your cabinet, it must be tended to as soon as it occurs. This is because of two reasons:
- The minimisation of the hazards associated with the accidental release of chemicals — such as flammable or toxic vapours, and
- The spill sump capacity will be compromised by the spillage.
You can keep on top of your leaks and spills by developing inspections and procedures that allow for the swift cleaning up of residue and spillage in your cabinet. Remember to inspect the cabinet after the housekeeping of the sump has taken place to make sure that it’s in good condition, there are no leaks on the inside walls or shelves, and that the vapour levels within the cabinet are within safe levels.
Tip #6: Hazardous Vapours
When maintaining a safe working environment for your workers, the control of hazardous and harmful vapours is a key consideration. Chemical containers without tight-fitting lids, leaks and spills, and poorly ventilated rooms can all contribute to the build-up of hazardous vapours.
The workplace exposure standards are your guide to maintaining a safe level of vapour concentrations in your storage and handling areas. Each type of chemical will have its own specific guidelines for concentration levels, which must be followed to maintain safety and compliance.
If you find that your vapour levels exceed the legal limits, consult with a Dangerous Goods Specialist to determine how you can successfully reduce these levels. Options may include reducing the volume of chemicals that you keep indoors, developing more regular and effective housekeeping routines, or perhaps the installation of a mechanical ventilation system within the cabinet or the work area.
Tip #7: Segregation
Do you understand the chemical segregation guidelines? For businesses carrying multiple classes of dangerous goods, the correct segregation of incompatible substances — and those that will react dangerously — is a key consideration when determining your storage needs.
While safety cabinets do provide chemical segregation for your stored items, it’s important that incompatible substances are not handled or kept close to the cabinet.
Tip #8: Loading and Stacking
To reduce the likelihood of spills, accidents and injuries in your storage areas, staff should be trained to understand the correct loading and stacking procedures for safety cabinets. This includes:
- Never loading the cabinet past its maximum capacity rating
- Keeping all containers on shelves (and not in the spill sump)
- Practicing safe stacking of chemical packages
- Keeping the containers away from the doors and hinges
- Don’t stack safety cabinets on top of each other
Tip #9: Signage
When you’re storing dangerous goods or hazardous chemicals, your signage is essential for the protection of your people, property and environment. Without the correct signage in place, staff will not be aware of the hazards associated with the stores chemicals.
A compliant chemical cabinet will already be equipped with the correct dangerous goods and hazard signage. For example, if you’re storing Class 3 Flammable Liquids, your signage will include the Class 3 diamond and the ‘No Smoking, No Ignition Sources within 3 metres’ hazard sign.
Your cabinet will also be marked with the maximum storage capacity, as well as the name and address of the manufacturer/importer/distributor.
Dangerous goods labels and hazard signage must be clearly visible to workers. If there is any damage to the signs, or they happen to go missing, you are responsible for the replacement of these compliant signs.
Tip #10: Condition of the Cabinet
While your cabinet may have arrived onsite in perfect condition, you must ensure that your chemical control remains that way. A vital part of maintaining compliance with your storage controls is to inspect your safety cabinets every week to check for any signs of damage or deterioration.
There are many things that can affect the overall integrity of your cabinet, including:
- Damaged locks
- Doors that aren’t closing properly
- Scratches or dints in the powder coated steel
- Dented shelving
- Problems with the spill sump
- Water damage or corrosion
Look out for any signs of deterioration, vandalism or impact damage and report these issues immediately to management, so corrective actions (such as part replacement) can be taken.
Ensuring Compliance For Your Chemical Cabinets
While we have listed 10 things to consider with your cabinet maintenance, there are many more factors to consider when looking at your chemical compliance obligations. However, it doesn’t have to be a daunting task.
There are several things that you can do to learn more about safety cabinet compliance. We suggest engaging a Dangerous Goods Consultant or speaking with the supplier of the safety cabinet to find out more about onsite maintenance or repairs. You may also access the resources available online Safe Work Australia and other regulatory bodies in your region.
If you feel that there’s still some work to be done on properly maintaining your cabinets, we highly recommend that you grab a copy of our helpful guide, Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. This resource is jam-packed full of useful and practical information, so you can retain the efficiency and integrity of your chemical cabinets. You can access your own copy of our guide for free — right now — by simply clicking on the image below.