Applying a risk management approach to your flammable liquids

Jul 10, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Flammable liquids are Dangerous Goods, and they have the potential to burn, explode and react dangerously with other substances. Whether you carry large, or minute quantities of flammable liquids you need to ensure they are handled and stored carefully so they don’t harm the health of your workers, property or the natural environment. In this blog we’ll take a look at how to manage the risk associated with flammable liquids stored and handled in the workplace.   


What is risk management?

Keeping your workplace safe requires focus and consistent, deliberate action. Risk Management is a  practice that is used in all areas of a business to identify potential risks and threats, assess their capacity for harm, and then taking steps to reduce the risk (or eliminate it completely). 

Risk Management can be used to manage risks associated with supply chains, cash flow, staff retention, software upgrades, legal compliance and (of course) workplace safety and the management of hazardous chemicals. In Australia, risk management is a mandatory practice under the WHS Regulations in each state and territory.

The risk management approach can be used to minimise (or eliminate) all work health and safety risks, but in practice would be broken down into manageable sub-sections. For example: your HSE Manager might apply risk management to all the hazards in the warehouse (eg, chemicals, manual handling, plant and machinery, electrical hazards), or they might apply risk management to a single hazard class across the entire job site (eg, flammable liquids).

Risk Management vs Risk Assessment vs Risk Control

You’ve probably heard the terms risk assessment and risk management and risk control. They are often interchanged, but are actually three different things. Let’s apply each of the three terms to flammable liquids:

  • Risk Management - is a method or approach to ensure that all hazards at your worksite are systematically identified, assessed and controlled, as well as periodically reviewed. Eg, your HSE Manager implements a 4-STEP risk management methodology to ensure the Class 3 Flammable Liquids at the job site are stored in compliance with Australian Standard AS1940:2017.
  • Risk Assessment - is an action taken to identify individual hazards and assess the level of harm they could cause. A risk assessment is an essential part of a risk management methodology. Eg, you inspect the flammable liquids storage areas and notice that fuel containers are being left on top of safety cabinets instead of being put away inside. You discover the flammable liquids cabinet is also being used to store worker’s PPE — leaving no room for the flammable liquids. Your assessment determines this is creating a high risk of fire and chemical exposure.
  • Risk Control - is a measure you implement to control individual hazards. Eg, you purchase dedicated PPE cabinet, and issue a housekeeping procedure requiring PPE and flammable liquids to be separated and put away in different cabinets. You also meet with supervisors to ensure they enforce this policy

Implementing a risk management methodology

To ensure your flammable liquids (as well as other hazardous chemicals and Dangerous Goods) are in compliance with Australian WHS Regulations we recommend using STOREMASTA’s four-step risk management methodology as follows:

  • STEP 1 — IDENTIFY - conduct a site inspection and identify all the flammable liquids you carry at the job site. Record the chemical quantities, container types and sizes, plus the storage location. Note any hazardous practices, damaged equipment and overloaded stores.
  • STEP 2 —ASSESS - next carry out a risk assessment to evaluate the level of risk created by the flammable liquids and each chemical hazard they have created. For full details refer to the next section.
  • STEP 3 — CONTROL - try to find a way to eliminate each of the hazards. If this not possible implement suitable risk control measures while applying the Hierarchy of Controls. 
  • STEP 4 — SUSTAIN - carry out post-installation inspections and testing to verify the controls are setup and working correctly. Implement systemised monitoring and reviews  to ensure that new hazards aren’t being introduced — and each chemical control remains effective. 

Conducting a risk assessment on your flammable liquids

As we outlined in the previous section, a risk assessment forms part of a full risk management methodology. It is the process of evaluating individual chemical hazards and assessing how much harm they could cause.

Let’s look at how you might carry out a risk assessment of your flammable liquids: 

  1. Identify the health and physical hazards associated with each chemical. Eg, petrol is highly flammable, can explode at certain temperatures/concentrations, is corrosive to the skin and eyes, is carcinogenic, is a mutagen and toxic to aquatic life. 
  2. List the type of hazardous events or injuries the chemical could cause. Eg, petrol fire in the lab, fuel spill at the decanting station, vapour exposure to workers at the fuel depot.  
  3. Assess the potential for damage. Eg, a petrol fire could destroy the lab and place 10 workers at risk of fatal injuries. A fuel spill could escape into waterways and kill aquatic life. Vapour exposure could cause respiratory complications, asthma and cancer.
  4. Evaluate the likelihood of each hazardous event occurring. Eg, petrol is used once per week in the lab. Decanting is done twice a week. Workers at the fuel depot are exposed to fumes at least 6 hours per day.
  5. Creating a chemical control action plan which prioritises the chemical hazards with the highest level of risk. Eg, your action plan might flag the vapours at the fuel depot to be the hazard with the highest risk of harm because the exposure is continuous. The other two hazards would be addressed, but the vapour hazard would take priority.

REMEMBER: This is a simple example only. In a real-world situation, a vapour hazard would also be creating fire and explosion risks as well. 

Next steps

This blog has provided an introductory discussion on how you could use a risk management approach to managing the flammable liquids at your workplace or job site. For a more specific details we recommend downloading our new eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. It contains all the information you need to select, install and maintain an indoor flammable liquids cabinet. Plus, it’s completely free. Download and read it now by clicking on the image below:

Essential Considerations when Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors download Free eBook

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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