Fire and explosion risks at wineries

Guidance for employers on how to eliminate or reduce the risks associated with highly flammable liquids at wineries.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

In addition, the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 also sets out legal duties for occupiers of premises where dangerous goods are stored or handled. The Code of Practice for storage and handling of dangerous goods provides practical information on how to comply.

Problem

Wineries store highly flammable liquids, including alcoholic beverages containing ethanol. This is a workplace hazard, which has the potential to cause injury to persons or damage to property by explosion or fire.

Risks

People can be killed or seriously injured at a winery if flammable liquid ignites.

Vapours from flammable liquids used for the fortification of wine can be ignited by sources such as welding, grinding and other heat-based work.

Two people were killed and another person received severe burns after an explosion at a winery in the Hunter Valley.

It is possible that the employees were using welding equipment when the ethanol vapours (wine or grape spirit) in a large metal tank ignited and exploded, destroying the winery.

Controlling risks

Eliminate or reduce workplace health and safety risks of fires and explosions through building design, equipment selection and safe operating procedures, so far as is reasonably practicable.

For the bulk storage and handling of potable spirits (flammable liquids) with more than 24% but not more than 60% alcohol by volume, refer to Appendix F: Storage and Handling of Potable Spirits in Bulk of the Australian Standard AS 1940:2017 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquid. 

For the bulk storage and handling of potable spirits, (flammable liquids), with more than 70% alcohol by volume and in quantities greater than 60,000 L, refer to the main body of the Australian Standard AS 1940:2017 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquid, in particular Section 5 related to storage in tanks.

Employers should:

  • ensure electrical equipment in the area where the potable spirits are stored and handled are suitable for hazardous areas as described in AS/NZS 60079.10.1:2009 Explosives Atmospheres Classification of areas – Explosive Gas Atmospheres
  • clearly identify and enforce hot work and smoking restriction zones, including zones restricting:
    • mechanical grinding
    • cutting
    • other ignition sources
  • ensure hot work on or near a tank that contained or does contain wine products (ethanol) is avoided until the tank is cleaned free and certified to be less than 5% of the lower explosive limit (LEL) of the vapour from potable spirits (ethanol has LEL 3.3% volume) when sampled at ambient temperature
  • store flammable liquids in fit for purpose and numbered containers
  • store incompatible chemicals, for example, Class 8 Corrosives, in different locations
  • placard the store with Class 3 diamond if:
    • the flammable liquids are 24% to 70%  alcohol by volume and the quantities exceed 1000 L, or
    • the flammable liquids are more than 70% alcohol by volume and the quantities exceed 250 L
  • clearly and correctly label containers and placard tanks
  • maintain adequate natural cross flow ventilation in buildings that involve storage or processing of flammable liquids
  • ensure the area around storage and processing is kept free of materials that burn
  • remove flammable or toxic materials before work is carried out on an empty container
  • ensure transferring of flammable liquids from storage to the point of use is carried out to avoid spillage by using fixed pipework and tank overfill prevention
  • provide and maintain fire safety equipment as per Section11 of AS 1940:2017 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquid.  Equipment includes:
    • alarm systems
    • fire extinguishers
    • hydrants
    • hoses
    • fire blankets