Preventative maintenance and integrity testing in your hazardous chemical stores

Feb 11, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

As time passes, hazardous chemicals will begin to degrade even the toughest chemical stores. It’s essential to have a preventative maintenance program in place, (with enough integrity checks and tests) to ensure the chemicals remain secure and unlikely to harm your workers or cause property and environmental damage. This blog looks at three areas of the worksite to give you some ideas about what to include in your preventative maintenance program.

“A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that a system used at their workplace for the use, handling or storage of hazardous chemicals is used only for the purpose for which it was designed, manufactured, modified, installed or supplied.” Safe Work Australia.

Introducing a maintenance plan to your job site

A maintenance plan is more than just carrying out regular repair work. It’s about programming a series of regular site inspections and safety audits to assess the integrity of things like chemical containers, safety equipment and storage facilities, while ensuring everything is being used correctly. Your maintenance plan would include three different types of inspections:

  1. Ongoing inspections - these are normally part of a leading hand or supervisor’s daily responsibilities and at the most basic level, consist of spot-checks in work areas. But your maintenance plan might also include daily pre-shift inspections to ensure the operational integrity and safety of equipment before workers commence their shift (eg, is the ventilation system working correctly?)

  2. Handover inspections - these occur when new equipment or machinery is introduced to the worksite. Maybe you’ll installed a new flammable liquids store or decanting station, the handover inspection would ensure there are no leaks and the equipment operates seamlessly (eg, are those self-closing doors actually closing automatically without jamming?).

  3. Scheduled audits - these occur at programmed intervals and are usually carried out by an appointed in-house team or by external safety auditors and professional consultants. This type of audit is a more objective than daily inspections, which very often become a mere ‘tick-and-flick’ exercise if production is running behind schedule.

Your maintenance plan by location

Most maintenance plans have an Inspection Checklist prepared for each location on the job site. We’ve listed here some of the things to check in each of three common areas.

1. Safety cabinets, chemical stores and decanting stations

  • Check the walls of under-pallet bunds for cracks and any other wear and tear that could cause the bunding to fail.

  • Make sure spill bunds are not loaded past their holding capacity.

  • Create safety alerts based on expiry dates of chemicals. Check chemical containers.

  • Check the integrity of outdoor chemical storage areas after storms or damaging weather.

  • Test the doors and closing mechanisms on safety cabinets to ensure they in proper working order.

  • Ensure spill sumps are cleared after leaks and then checked periodically.

  • Test the integrity of stakes and footings that fix portable chemical stores or decanting stations to the ground.

  • Make sure chemical stores and all decanting equipment is correctly earthed.

  • Perform routine housekeeping checks (lids on containers, containers put away clean without chemical residue, chemicals stored according to hazard class).

2. Gas bottle cages, trolleys, and racking

  • Check for any signs of damage of leakage (eg, hissing sounds, cylinders that should be full but feel lighter than expected)

  • Carry out routine housekeeping checks (cylinders segregated according to hazard class, valves closed, cylinder caps in place, individually restrained using safety straps or chains).

  • Check the integrity of gas connections and fittings, valve threading, cylinder head, burst discs. Are cylinder valves being over-tightened?

  • Program safety alerts into your calendar based on cylinders test dates and purchasing times.

  • Check the integrity of storage equipment: are the gates to gas bottle cages secure and lockable? are gas bottle trolleys level and the wheels turn easily? is racking missing or damaged? do safety straps safely secure the cylinders?

3. Hazardous chemicals in the laboratory

  • Conduct general housekeeping checks: are acids and alkalis stored separately? are lids closed on containers? are chemicals stored under a sink or near water? are containers put away with unsafe chemical residues spilled onto the exterior?

  • Check all laboratory glassware is clean, sterile and has no cracks or holes.

  • Inspect PPE for damage and make sure it is also clean and hygienic.

  • Program professional maintenance and equipment calibration into your calendar to ensure everything is working correctly and giving accurate readings.

Taking corrective actions

Safety audits and inspections are of no use if action is not taken when a fault or hazard is discovered. When you create a maintenance plan you’ll need clear procedures so staff know how to respond. These procedures might include:

  • Making supervisors or other workers in the area aware of the immediate danger.

  • Shutting down or "locking-out" machinery or equipment that cannot be brought to a safe standard until repairs are carried out.

  • Erecting warning signs and isolating the area until the hazard is removed.

  • Reporting the faults to senior management.

  • Notifying the maintenance department or arranging professional repairs with external contractors.

Your maintenance program should be well documented and subject to regular review. You’ll also need to adapt and update your program whenever you start using new chemicals, introduce new equipment or machinery, or when the job site experiences major change.

Next steps

Preventative maintenance is an essential step in a compliant risk management plan. To learn how to develop a comprehensive risk management plan and get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant, download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s easy to read and contains the tools and templates you need to get started. Plus it’s absolutely free.

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

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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