New SWA chemical storage guide for workplaces
A new guide from Safe Work Australia (SWA) aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses safely identify and store their chemicals has been released.
“If you store chemicals in your workplace and need information on how to store them safely, this guide is for you,” said SWA Director of Chemicals Policy, Dr Paul Taylor.
Chemical hazard warning
The importance of safe chemical storage was dramatically highlighted in a recent factory fire in Melbourne, where up to 100,000 drums full of highly flammable and poisonous chemicals had been stored in an unregistered warehouse.
The ensuing “industrial inferno” created danger for emergency services and the local community.
This fire, the biggest in the city for decades, graphically showed the risks of poor chemical storage management and the disastrous consequences of storing incompatible chemicals together in an inappropriate space.
To prevent incidents like this on a large or small scale, the new SWA guide was developed in consultation with representatives from national work health and safety regulators, unions and industry groups.
It covers the essentials of chemical storage, including the common health and safety risks of storing chemicals and ways to manage those risks.
The guide puts emphasis on identifying hazardous chemicals and how to tell if chemicals are incompatible.
It also outlines how to choose a location to store your chemicals and how to separate chemicals that should not be stored next to each other.
Check the Safety Data Sheet
According to the guide, the most reliable way to find information about a chemical is to check the chemical’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
SDSs are documents that provide critical information about hazardous chemicals and include information on the:
- Chemical identity and ingredients
- Health and safety hazards, eg. flammable, toxic, carcinogenic
- Safe handling and storage procedures, including other chemicals it should not be stored with
- Stability and reactivity
- Emergency procedures
- Disposal considerations
SDSs should be core in the management and planning of hazardous chemical storage.
The new guide also has an extensive, practical 13-point storage checklist that sets out the standard precautions everyone should take, plus a detailed chart that shows which types of chemicals to separate and the required distance between them.
Recommendations include, but are not limited to:
- Ensuring all chemicals are clearly labelled and that the register of hazardous chemicals is up-to-date.
- Keeping storage areas clean and organised, including making sure bunds are clear and spill trays are in place and clear.
- Ensuring storage systems are in place and operating correctly. Some chemicals should be stored locked up or refrigerated; others need constant ventilation to ensure hazardous fumes do not build up.
- Checking spills kits so as to ensure there is a suitable way to clean up any chemicals that spill.
All employers have a part to play in improving workplace safety. If chemicals are part of your business, download Safe Work Australia’s new chemical storage guide here.