This is the first in a series where we will review issues around the storage and handling of dangerous goods and hazardous materials. ...
General Rules for Storage of Dangerous Goods
There have been significant changes concerning the storage of dangerous and
hazardous goods and materials recently. The biggest change is the introduction of mandatory
self-assessment. This is now a critical responsibility for the OH&S
or environment officer within the many organisations that use flammable,
corrosive or toxic materials.
The new Australian Standard 1940-2004 has set stringent benchmarks for
the internal and external storage of HAZMAT. No longer will “lack of
knowledge” or “ignorance” be accepted as excuses if an organisation or
individual is caught with poor storage practices.
Companies or individuals that do not
comply could be hit with large fines. AS 1940 touches virtually every aspect of Australian life and affects
so many areas, such as flammable liquids such as fuels, solvents,
paints, perfumes, ingredients for plastics, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic
products, insecticides and even cooking oils.
Dos and don’ts
The first step in identifying dangerous goods is to look at the
classification symbol on the bottle or container. The are 9 possible
categories. However, if the label is unreadable and the
contents unrecognisable, don’t smell the substance in an effort to
identify it – common sense rules here.
Seek expert advice to identify the substance if necessary. Unwanted
materials should never be disposed of by pouring them down the drain.
EPAs in all states impose severe penalties on individuals or companies
caught doing so. For detailed information on how to dispose of dangerous
substances, refer to AS1940/2004, section 12.
Apart from classifications, dangerous goods have been categorised into
what are called Package Groups. Package group one (PG1) covers those
substances that present the greatest danger, such as diethyl ether and
carbon disulfide, all of which have boiling points less than 35°C.
Package group two (PG2) covers substances that present a medium level
of danger, such as acetone, paint thinners and fuels that have flash
points of less than 23°C and boiling points greater than 35°C. Package
group three (PG3) represents those substances with a minor level of
danger, such as kerosene and mineral turpentine. These have flash points
anywhere between 23°C and 60.5°C, with boiling points greater than
With each package group, there are new limits regarding the volumes
stored in any one place. You have to take into consideration both the
class and the package group of the dangerous goods to determine the
storage requirements. These vary from volume, to class, to package. Use
the legal storage requirements detailed in the new Australian Standard
as a strict guide for storage.
This covers a detailed range of approved storage facilities for each
package group, including ventilation options for vapour build-up,
bunding for any spills, signage, locking and opening, outdoor storage
and store location clearance requirements.
How much can be stored?
In addition to storage facilities, storage locations have also been
redefined in the new standard. For example, the quantities of dangerous
goods allowed under minor storage vary depending on the usage of the
premises. For instance, educational establishments may store five litres
for every 50 square metres of floor space for PG1 and PG2 substances,
but 10 litres if the liquid is a PG3 substance.
Construction sites may store far more, up to 2,500 litres of PG1 and
PG2 flammable liquids and up to 5,000 litres of PG3 flammable liquids.
They can also store up to 10,000 litres of combustible liquids. The
conditions for construction sites explicitly state that dangerous goods
cannot be for sale or commercial distribution and that there is a one
metre separation from buildings, watercourses or environmentally
Workplaces using small quantities of dangerous goods in several
locations may wish to have multiple minor-storage dangerous goods
cabinets. However, they must be separated by at least 20 metres, as
measured from the outer surfaces of the cabinets or tanks.
Individuals or organisations responsible for the storage of HAZMAT in
the workplace now have strict guidelines for storage and spill
containment. Practises such as passing off decommissioned sea containers as
adequate storage for HAZMAT is now a thing of the past.
There have been many recent examples of enforcement of dangerous goods regulations. A farm in northern NSW was fined
$150,000 by WorkCover for the incorrect storage of dangerous chemicals
in just such a manner. The changes and additions to AS 1940 are
comprehensive and detailed, enhancing workplace safety.