How to store hazardous chemicals legally and safely

Originally published July 4, 2018 01:34:12 AM

If you use any hazardous chemicals at your worksite, you are responsible for ensuring they are stored safely in a way that complies with the current WHS Regulation in your state or territory. This blog will introduce you to some industry best practices when safely storing hazardous chemicals. But remember — you cannot store any chemical safely unless you identify and fully understand the properties, toxicity and hazards associated with the substance.

Identify each hazardous chemical

Correctly identifying a chemical is just about the most important part of your chemical management program. Get started by requesting the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) from the manufacturer or supplier and read it carefully. The SDS will indicate the:

  • Correct name of the chemical (liquid chlorine)
  • Hazard class (corrosive)
  • Health hazards (causes severe skin burns and eye damage, do not breathe vapours)
  • Handling requirements (use only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area)
  • Storage requirements (store locked up, keep containers closed when not in use, protect from heat, store away from incompatible materials)
  • PPE to use when handling (safety glasses with top and side shields or goggles)
  • First aid measures (if swallowed do not induce vomiting, wash mouth with water)
  • Emergency procedures (use water spray to cool fire-exposed containers, wear Safe Work Australia approved self-contained breathing apparatus and full protective clothing)
  • Environmental hazards (very toxic to aquatic organisms)

REMEMBER: only use the SDS provided by the manufacturer or supplier. Generic SDSs don’t allow for manufacturing variations that may introduce new or different chemical hazards.

Understand the risks they present

Once you have carefully reviewed the SDS  you can fully understand the risks of using the chemical. From the example above you can see that a hazardous chemical like liquid chlorine has a number of different hazards. Most chemicals do. Each will contribute to your decision about how it will be stored.

From the SDS you can take into consideration: what type of fire fighting equipment you might need nearby, where the chemicals can be stored (maybe it’s outside); if they must be locked in a safety cabinet, and any incompatible substances that might cause a dangerous chemical reaction if located too close.

Segregate incompatible hazardous chemicals

The SDS will list any incompatible materials that could cause a dangerous reaction if the chemicals are mixed together. Reactions like:

  • Fire
  • Explosion
  • Heat
  • Pressure
  • Poisonous dusts, fumes, and gases

Your risk management and control measures will need to address each incompatible substance that is either used or manufactured onsite and what dangerous reactions could occur. But there are other considerations too. For example some corrosive substances can react with unsuitable packaging like metals storage containers. So if corrosive substances leak they may also damage the packaging and cause other dangerous substances to leak.

Some of the ways to keep incompatible substances segregated is by creating a safe distance between chemicals; partitioning the workplace, or securing them in chemical safety cabinets.

TIP: Do not assume that different corrosive substances can be safely stored together.

Keep hazardous chemicals in a compliant safety cabinet

Chemical storage cabinets ensure chemicals are secured from unauthorised users and are also effective in preventing incompatible substances mixing and creating violent chemical reactions, fires, and toxic fumes.  In Australia, safety cabinets can be purchased for each different hazard class and are constructed from suitable materials which won’t react with the chemicals. A great example are corrosive cabinets which are made from 100% high density polyethylene and are completely metal-free.

Safety cabinets are also manufactured for spill containment. A good example being flammable cabinets which have a high capacity liquid tight sump to contain any spills. Flammable cabinets are also an excellent way of keeping hazardous chemicals away from ignition sources.

TIP: chemical storage cabinets in Australia already have the mandatory placards and labels for their hazard class.

Separate flammables from ignition sources

If your workplace stores flammable chemicals you need to do more than ban smoking from work areas. You’ll need to control all potential ignition sources and conduct a full risk assessment for each flammable substance. Look at any ways the storage area might be exposed to:

  • Heat
  • Sunlight
  • Static electricity
  • Lightning
  • Machinery
  • Work processes that generate sparks
  • Electronics like mobile phones, computers and tablets

Fire-resistant safety cabinets are often a good solution because they provide a physical barrier to prevent the chemical causing or becoming involved in a fire. Of course there are other ways too and it will always depend on the results of your risk assessment.

REMEMBER: conducting a full risk assessment on the hazards that surround each and every hazardous chemical stored at your workplace is essential for WHS compliance in Australia.

Next Steps

Now you understand more about how to store chemicals legally and safely at your workplace, are you ready for the next step? If you want to ensure your chemical storage areas are 100% compliant with Australian WHS legislation we encourage you to download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Download and read it today.

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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