On November 28, 2018, Safe Work Australia published their chemical storage guide aimed at helping small- to medium-sized enterprises to safely store chemicals in the workplace. The guide provides valuable information for businesses who might not have the necessary expertise in managing risks associated with chemical storage.
Hazardous Chemicals 101
Understanding the basics of chemical hazards is the first step toward managing the risks of storing chemicals. Chemical hazards are divided into two categories: health hazards, and physicochemical hazards.
Health hazards are those that make people sick or unwell, usually through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. Exposure to these types of chemicals can cause either short-term (e.g., dizziness, nausea) or long-term (e.g., nerve damage, cancer) health problems.
Physicochemical hazards are those that immediately injure people or damage property, such as fire, explosion, and chemical corrosion, among others.
Safe Storage of Chemicals
Ensuring the proper storage of hazardous chemicals is just as important as proper handling and usage of these substances. Different types of chemicals pose different types of health and safety risks to people, even when not in use.
As mentioned above, some chemicals can cause a fire or explosion, or suffocate or poison workers who become exposed to them. In addition, certain chemicals can be incompatible with others and if they become mixed, can lead to severe consequences at best, and catastrophic results at worst.
Chemical Risk Management
Managing the risks of storing chemicals starts with identifying the hazards present in your specific workplace. The chemical’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) provides reliable information regarding specific chemicals, such as the following:
- Hazards – lists whether a chemical is flammable, toxic, or can cause cancer.
- Handling and Storage instructions – specifies how to safely store the chemical and which chemicals it should not be stored together with.
- Stability and Reactivity – details how to keep the chemical stable and which chemicals it could react with.
Assessing the risks posed by your stored chemicals is the next phase, which will allow you to determine exact action steps that you must take to control these risks, and how urgently you need to take them.
The SDS will provide information as to the severity of a chemical’s hazards. Consider the following factors when assessing chemical hazard risks:
- Quantity of chemicals stored in the workplace
- Severity of the hazards posed by these chemicals
- Likelihood of an incident occurring in your workplace
Various methods of controlling risks associated with dangerous chemicals exist, with some being more effective and reliable than others. For this reason, a Hierarchy of Control Measures was developed, ranking the measures from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest.
Under the WHS Regulations, persons or organisations who have duty of care must work through the Hierarchy of Actions in risk management. It’s important to consider consulting with experienced and qualified safety experts if you are unsure about how to safely store hazardous chemicals in the workplace.