Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for flammable liquids

Oct 10, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Whenever flammable or combustible liquids are used and stored at a worksite, everyone onsite must be provided with personal protective equipment appropriate to the job they do and how much exposure they have to the chemicals. This blog looks at the PPE requirements  of AS1940:2017 - The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids, the different types of PPE to be used when handling flammable liquids ,and the specific requirements of the Standard.

REMEMBER: PPE on its own, is not a sufficient risk control measure because it only places a temporary barrier between the worker and the hazard. Ideally eliminate a hazard completely or use a chemical that is less hazardous.

Types of personal protective equipment

Deciding which PPE to use at your worksite will begin with the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each of the flammable liquids. An SDS contains a section which details the type of PPE required when handling the flammable substance. This information will form the basis of your risk assessment which will consider the way the flammable liquids are being used at your workplace. The example (in italics below) is from an SDS for Automotive Diesel Fuel — as you can see the recommendation is for nitrile gloves but prompts the WHS Manager to conduct an independent risk assessment.

Wear safety shoes, overalls, gloves, safety glasses. Available information suggests that gloves made from nitrile rubber should be suitable for intermittent contact. However, due to variations in glove construction and local conditions, the user should make a final assessment.

AS1940:2017 outlines the following PPE to be used when handling and storing flammable liquids:

1. Eye protection

Workers should wear eye protection (complying with AS/NZS 1337) when handling flammable liquids. Of course the type of eye protection worn will depend on the toxicity of the chemical (is it corrosive or carcinogenic?) as well as the way it is being handled (is the dispensing or refuelling station fully contained or is there a risk of the fuel splashing onto the face or eyes?).

Eye protection can include safety glasses, goggles, and face shields and you should make sure the units are chemical resistant and fitted to each worker individually. When goggles or eye guards don’t fit correctly they could distract a worker filling a container with petrol, causing them to lose focus and make a dangerous error.

2. Protective gloves

Protective gloves should be worn by workers handling flammable liquids. Consulting the SDS is the best place to begin when deciding on what type of protective gloves to use. Hands need protecting from the liquids, but the gloves must also be impervious to chemical vapours. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully to determine just how chemical resistant the gloves are.

Gloves need to be fitted correctly, loose fitting gloves can be penetrated by liquids and vapours or cause an operator to make an error. You should make sure there are enough gloves in stock so each worker has access to their own pair plus a backup supply. Protective gloves must comply with AS/NZS 2161.

3. Safety Footwear

Safety footwear is essential under the Standard and must meet the requirements of AS/NZS 2210. Again make sure the boots fit properly and fully protect the feet from vapours or flames.

4. Headwear

Some workplaces require workers, contractors and site personnel to wear hard hats or helmets. These should meet the requirements of AS/NZS180. The helmets should be compatible with the chemical properties of the fuels or solvents being used by the worker, fit the worker properly, and be kept maintained in accordance with the Standard.

5. Breathing Apparatus

When breathing apparatus is required at a worksite, make sure that respirators having appropriate filters, and any self-contained breathing apparatus complies with AS/NZS 1716. Always check the SDS thoroughly and consult your chemical supplier when breathing apparatus is required.

6. Protective clothing

Wearing protective clothing like overalls is often specified on the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for various fuels, solvents and flammable liquids. Again research the clothing well to make sure it’s compatible with the chemicals being used.

7. Hearing protection

If hearing protection is required on the worksite, the ear guards must comply with AS/NZS 1270.

Storing your PPE

Job sites and work areas should be designed so that staff can easily access their PPE before starting their duties, and they should know exactly how (and where) to put it away. A secure safety cabinet that protects PPE from the weather, dust, heat, and vermin is the ideal choice. PPE storage cabinets are available to suit both indoor and outdoor work areas as well as different types of PPE.

Accidents occur when PPE is not returned to its location at the end of shift, or when incoming workers cannot access a locked PPE cabinet. Additionally when PPE is stored a long way from the work area, staff can be tempted to take shortcuts when they feel they are in a hurry. PPE storage areas must clearly identified.

IMPORTANT: Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be stored separately to regular uniforms and clothes. We recommend dedicated PPE cabinets or lockers to keep this equipment secure and ready for use.

Care and maintenance of personal protective equipment

PPE requires diligent cleaning and maintenance, and the Standard specifically requires that all PPE must be cleaned at the end of each shift/day according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Lost or damaged PPE should be reported to supervisors right away and essential PPE stocks maintained at all times.

Clothing or equipment contaminated with fuels, solvents and other chemicals must be washed and cleaned before storage or re-use. PPE soaked in flammable chemicals and rendered unusable must also be disposed of safely so it doesn’t create a fire or explosion hazard in waste processing and disposal areas.

Training staff to use PPE

Staff handling flammable liquids should be given detailed hands-one training in PPE use, care, and maintenance. They also require adequate supervision when on the job, to ensure they can competently use the PPE and perform their tasks safely. Training sessions (and refresher training) should cover:

  • The chemical properties and hazards of the flammable liquids
  • The type of PPE they need to use
  • How the PPE will protect them and why they need to wear/use it
  • Their personal responsibilities under the law
  • Where the PPE is stored
  • How to use it correctly
  • How to keep it clean and safely maintained
  • Where to store it when they finish their job task/shift
  • What to do if there is no available PPE at the beginning of the shift
  • What to do if they damage or lose their PPE

When self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is provided for working with vapours or responding to air deficient environment, intensive emergency training is required by the Standard. Simulated drills must be included in the training.

Next Steps

If you are a WHS Manager or Supervisor and responsible for managing the Dangerous Goods at your worksite, we encourage you to download our free eBook How to Reduce the Risk of Flammable Liquids in the Workplace. It’s an excellent tool for anyone needing a good understanding of the risk management process when working with flammable liquids. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

How to reduce the risk of flammable liquids 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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