Chemicals and fuels
12 Ways to Make Small Businesses Safer
Workplace chemicals and fuels can be classified as dangerous goods, hazardous substances or both.
Incidents involving chemicals and fuels can result in explosions or fire, causing death or serious injury, as well as large scale damage to property and the surrounding environment. Unsafe use can also cause cancer, poisoning, burns, blindness and other serious health problems.
Keep an up-to-date list of all the chemicals and fuels at your workplace and a copy of the manufacturer's or importer's material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each product. Refer to the MSDS for information on how to safely use and store the product, how it can affect your health, first aid measures and any personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn.
Store and use chemicals and fuels safely (refer to MSDS for guidance) by:
- making sure all chemicals and fuels are clearly labelled
- storing incompatible chemicals and fuels separately
- storing chemicals and fuels away from any potential heat or ignition sources (anything that can cause a spark or a flame such as power points, machines or equipment)
- storing chemicals in a dedicated, well-ventilated storage area
- using spill containment for liquids (eg bunding, spill trays, catchment drains, pits or portable spill clean-up equipment) to capture spills or leaks
- not storing chemical and fuels in empty food and drink containers
- making sure lids are secured on containers of chemicals and fuels
- displaying placard (signs) outside your workplace if you store certain quantities of dangerous goods
- purchasing smaller quantities and safer chemicals (eg granular products instead of dusty powders; water-based products instead of solvent based, more dilute chemicals)
- minimising spills and splashes by using safe pouring or decanting techniques
- ensuring spill absorbent material is available to safely clean up spills
- using local exhaust ventilation to extract/capture dust, fumes or vapours away from the operator, when such chemicals are being used
- training supervisors, employees, contractors and first aiders in procedures for accidental consumption, splashes, spill contamination or other chemical or fuel emergencies
- disposing of any chemical or fuels you don't use anymore (contact your local council, local tip, chemical waste disposal company or EPA Victoria for advice)
- providing PPE such as gloves, face shields, safety glasses or respirators if necessary and making sure PPE is used, cleaned and maintained properly.
View WorkSafe's guidance, A step by step guide for managing chemicals in the workplace
Oxy-fuel gases such as oxygen, acetylene and liquefied petroleum gas are used in varying quantities in many small businesses. If not used, stored or transported correctly they can catch fire or explode, causing death, serious injury or substantial property damage.
- During storage, secure (eg by tying up with a chain or in a cage) oxygen and fuel gas (such as acetylene and LPG) cylinders should be kept apart or separated in an upright position, outside in a well-ventilated area. They should be three metres apart or separated by a thermal barrier/wall such as a brick or masonry wall. They should also be protected from impact by vehicles.
- Store full and empty cylinders separately.
- Ensure cylinders, regulators, hoses, nozzles and guns are regularly inspected, maintained and tested for leaks.
- Ensure a flashback arrester is fitted close to the low-pressure side of the pressure regulator.
- Ensure any tools used to adjust piping fittings containing oxygen are clean and free of oil and grease.
- Keep cylinders away from ignition and heat sources (eg welding leads, flames, heaters) and materials that could catch fire.
- Display signs where the cylinders are stored and used (eg 'Danger, no smoking and no ignition sources', 'restricted area, authorised personnel only'.
- Train employees to use eye protection, leather gauntlets and work boots when using cylinders.
View WorkSafe's guidance, Portable oxy-fuel gas equipment frequently asked questions (FAQ)