Managing Risk in Workplaces with Gases Stored in Cylinders

Dec 27, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Compressed gases stored under pressure in cylinders are Dangerous Goods and require careful storage, management and handling. This blog looks at the hazards that surround gases in cylinders and presents a risk management methodology for improving safety at your workplace while complying with WHS legislation in Australia.

Risks and hazards of gas cylinders

Gas cylinders present a complex range of hazards because you are dealing with both the chemical hazards of individual gases, as well as the physical nature of the cylinders (bulky, slippery, heavy).  

Chemical hazards

Chemical hazards relate to the chemical properties of the gases. Examples include:

  • Exposure to toxic and corrosive gases can quickly cause death or serious impairment.
  • Liquified gases present a thermal hazard and can cause cold burns and frostbite injuries.
  • Inert and flammable gases that leak into confined spaces can displace the oxygen in the atmosphere and asphyxiate anyone who enters the area.
  • Oxidising gases can start of intensify fires and explosions.
  • Flammable gases can ignite and cause catastrophic fires and explosions

Physiochemical hazards

Physiochemical hazards relate to the physical properties of the cylinders in combination with the chemical properties of the gases, and the way they are handled. Examples include:

  • Manual handling injuries like sprains, strains and broken bones.
  • Cylinders impacted by falling objects/vehicles; or dropped/knocked over by workers can rupture, leak, or explode
  • Cylinders exposed to heat can explode
  • Uncontrolled release of the high-pressure gas can create a torpedo-effect, critically injuring or killing impacted workers

Using a Risk Management Methodology

To safely manage the gases in cylinders at your workplace you’ll need to conduct a full risk assessment, then implement suitable control measures. This process is complex at even the smallest worksite so here at STOREMASTA we have developed a simple 4-STEP methodology to ensure your risk management process is 100% correct and nothing gets missed. Let’s look at it in more detail so you can implement it at your own workplace.

IMPORTANT: To comply with WHS legislation in Australia you must ensure that each step in the STOREMASTA risk assessment methodology is completed in full AND in the chronological order outlined below.

STEP 1: Identify

You can’t control risks until you know what they are. Get started by identifying all the gases held at your worksite plus locating each and every cylinder. Walk around the worksite to physically locate the cylinders; liaising with people like floor staff, contractors and line managers as necessary. Using a sitemap is very helpful.

To correctly identify cylinders carefully check the cylinder labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).  Now you will make a list which identifies the:

  • Gases
  • Cylinder types
  • Tank capacity
  • Quantities
  • Location of cylinders
  • Details of how they are stored or handled

Now you have a master list of the all gas cylinders you should collate the SDSs for each of them and begin writing down the hazards associated with each of the gases. You might include things like: acetylene and O2 cylinders stored together overnight with the welding torch attached; or staff not using insulated gloves when changing LPG cylinders.

IMPORTANT: don’t forget to include empty cylinders in your hazard identification process. Empty cylinders should be treated the same way as full cylinders.

STEP 2: Assess

Once you have a master list of gas cylinders and collated the SDSs, you can begin assessing each of the hazards and the level of risk associated with each of them. This is where you’ll examine all the hazardous events that could occur (fires, explosions, gas leaks, chemical reactions), the outcome of the events (fatalities, injuries, destruction of property, environmental damage), and the likelihood of the event occurring. Hazards are then prioritised based on the how likely they are to cause an incident and the severity of the outcome.

Your risk assessment might examine a set of acetylene and O2 cylinders left on the gas bottle  trolley overnight — with the welding torch still attached. These incompatible gases could easily ignite from static electricity or heat, causing a catastrophic explosion, possible deaths and property damage. This hazard would be prioritised for immediate attention.

STEP 3: Control

The STOREMASTA risk management methodology uses the Hierarchy of Control to systematically control each of the cylinder hazards identified in step 1. There are five elements in the Hierarchy of Control and each should be considered in order.

  1. Elimination (how could you eliminate the hazard?)
  2. Substitution (is there another less harmful gas or work procedure that could be used?)
  3. Engineering controls (how could you redesign the workplace to reduce the amount of employees who are exposed to the cylinder hazards?)
  4. Administrative controls (what safe operating procedures could you implement?)
  5. Personal Protective equipment (what protective equipment can be used to protect workers?)

IMPORTANT: PPE is the least effective control measure because it only places a barrier between the worker and the gas bottle hazard.

STEP 4: Sustain

After working through the first 3 steps and implementing each control measure, you must now conduct another risk assessment to ensure that no new hazards have been created and that nothing has been missed. Step 4: Sustain is now about ensuring that your risk management is ongoing and 100% compliance is sustained.

TIP: Get in touch with STOREMASTA’s team of expert Field Auditors and Dangerous Goods Consultants for assistance when managing the risks associated with gas bottles and other dangerous goods at your worksite.

Next Steps

Would you like a more detailed look at the STOREMASTA methodology and how to use it to control the hazards associated with gas cylinders at your workplace? Download our free eBook Gas Cylinder Storage: Compliance and safety requirements  to see the methodology applied using real-world examples and case studies. Read it today.

gas cylinder storage: Compliance and safety requirements

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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