November 29, 2018

3 Steps to Identifying Flammable Liquid Hazards

Identifying hazards is the first (and arguably most important) step in managing and controlling risks and reducing the likelihood of someone being harmed on your job site. Flammable liquid hazards can be complex and the severity of the danger to people, property and the environment is more than the combination of the toxicology of the liquid and the flash-point of the vapours.
This blog takes a deeper dive into hazard identification: we look at how both the physical work environment and the way tasks are performed can increase (or decrease) the complexity of a hazard. We’ll also introduce a risk management methodology to ensure that nothing is left to guesswork or chance.

Hazard types in the workplace

Identifying hazards at your workplace or job site is a process of finding the chemicals, substances, equipment, and tools (plus work methods and situations) that have the potential to cause harm. Hazards can be found in all aspects of a workplace, here are some examples:

  • Equipment, tools, materials, chemicals and substances

  • Job tasks and work processes

  • Work design, operating procedures, depth of supervision, and management culture

  • Staff training, contractor induction, and refresher programs

  • Site layout, adjacent properties, and environmental fault-lines

Flammable liquids introduce an additional layer of risk to workplaces because of the ignition potential in nearly all of the areas listed above. Equipment failure or misuse, natural disasters, structural damage, and work demands that exceed an employee’s ability to cope, can all contribute to igniting flammable liquids that lead to a fire or catastrophic explosion.

3 steps to identifying flammable liquid hazards

Finding hazards on the work-site is a combination of researching the known hazards associated with each flammable liquid, conducting a physical inspection of your own workplace, and consulting with staff, contractors, suppliers, industry experts and safety consultants. There are three clear steps:
1. Review available data
Begin your hazard identification by reviewing the available data for each of the flammable liquids held onsite (or about to be introduced). In particular consult Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) to learn the chemical properties, toxicology and flash-points of the fluids. Additionally look for guidelines for storage, handling, PPE, potential ignition sources, and the details of incompatible substances.
At the same time analyse your own records of workplace accidents, near misses, health reports, employee complaints, incident reports, and sick leave. Looking a little closer at your own records and you might discover that incidents in a fuel dispensing area are being caused because the area is exposed to wind or the ground is unstable.
Finally consult industry regulators, unions, associations, safety consultants and professional field auditors. These people are technical specialists and experts who can provide information and advice about the risks and hazards of using flammable liquids in your particular industry or type of work.
2. Physically inspect work areas
A physical inspection of work areas works best by conducting a walk-around (with a sitemap) and observing:
  • Where flammable liquids are being used and stored.
  • What PPE is available and how it is being stored and maintained.
  • How staff are actually using the flammable liquids and if there are any unsafe work practices.
  • If housekeeping is acceptable and work areas are tidy.
  • If other hazardous chemicals or dangerous goods are being used or stored in the same area.
  • Do other work processes (production, repairs and maintenance, deliveries, use of personal electronics) create potential ignition sources?
  • Are tools and equipment suitable for use alongside flammables?
  • What type of work culture exists and are staff receiving enough training and supervision?

Some hazards you can identify right away, like a build up of spilled diesel or spent matches lying on the ground. But others may not be immediately noticeable. If employees are rostered to work 4 weeks on and 4 weeks off will the potential for hazards increase toward the end of their 4 weeks (when they are getting tired) or at the beginning (when they’ve been away from the work-site for almost a month)?
Finally consider the design of the work area and the tools you have provided. We refer especially to fuel dispensing stations, lubrication systems, bunding, chemical safety cabinets, safety showers, eyewash stations and outdoor IBC stores. Is the equipment you are using in good repair, designed and manufactured in accordance with the relevant Australian Safety Standards, located in the correct area, and fixed to the ground properly?
3. Consulting workers, contractors and suppliers
Workplace consultation is an essential factor in risk management and one of the best ways of finding
a critical hazard that you don’t know about — you will need to speak with the people who are on the ground every day working with the flammable liquids at the job site. Consulting workplace personnel is not about observing a worker on the job, it’s about listening to their concerns about the way the workplace is designed whether the operating procedures they are expected to follow are practical.
The consultation process often involves a combination of:
  • Formal meetings of safety committees and WHS representatives
  • Conducting regular toolbox talks and safety forums
  • Monitoring the responses of staff and contractors during safety inductions and refresher training
  • Meeting with supplier representatives
Employees and contractors provide valuable insights about the practicalities and safety of operating procedures and individual job methods, potential ignition sources, the suitability of PPE, near misses that were never reported, delivery schedules (either too many or not enough) that put additional pressures on workers.
The combination of physical inspections, consultation and the advice provided by industry experts and professional safety consultants reduces the likelihood of a critical hazard being overlooked, or misunderstood.

4-step risk management approach to hazard control

Identifying hazards is just one step in the risk management process and here at STOREMASTA we have developed a clear methodology for controlling the risks that flammable liquids and other dangerous goods present at your workplace. In brief, the methodology consists of four essential steps:
Step 1 – Identify each of the flammable liquids present on the worksite, their chemical properties, how they are used and stored.
Step 2 –Assess each of the hazards created by the flammable liquids, the type of dangerous incidents that could occur (fires, explosions, injuries, fatalities) and how likely they are to occur.
Step 3 – Control all the hazards by implementing known control measures (Australian Safety Standards, WHS Regulations) as well as applying the hierarchy of control to each of the hazards.
Step 4 – Sustain compliance by conducting follow-up risk assessments, regular safety audits, and scheduling maintenance.
IMPORTANT: Having a documented risk management methodology and plan is an essential part of meeting your obligations under the WHS Act current in your state or territory.

Walter Ingles - STOREMASTA - Dangerous Good Advisor - Consultant - Feature Writer - Australia

Walter Ingles, Dangerous Goods Advisor and Consultant, STOREMASTA

He loves helping organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods.

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