Background

Storage of what WorkSafe is advised is chemical waste in Epping and Campbellfield was discovered on Friday 28 December 2018. The waste was discovered during targeted inspections of industrial sites by WorkSafe, EPA, fire agencies and Victoria Police. The inspections detected concerning amounts of alleged liquid chemical waste stored within warehouses at several sites.

Chemical waste may be a dangerous good

Chemical waste may have hazardous properties that make it a dangerous good.

Dangerous goods are substances that are corrosive, flammable, combustible, explosive, oxidising or water-reactive, or have other hazardous properties.

Dangerous goods can cause explosions or fires, serious injury, death and large-scale damage.

The Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (Vic) (DG Act) defines which substances are dangerous goods. Examples of common dangerous goods include:

  • flammable liquids (petrol, kerosene, turpentine, acetone, flammable paints etc)
  • corrosives (hydrochloric acid)
  • flammable gases (liquefied petroleum gas)
  • non-flammable non-toxic gases (carbon dioxide)
  • asbestos
  • explosives

Duties associated with dangerous goods

The Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 (Vic) (Regulations) set out the legal duties for manufacturers, suppliers and for occupiers of premises where dangerous goods are stored or handled. WorkSafe's Code of Practice for Storage and Handling of Dangerous Goods provides practical information on how to comply.

Storing and handling dangerous goods at your workplace

As an occupier, the first step is to identify all dangerous goods stored and handled at your premises. This includes any dangerous goods (including by-products) generated during manufacturing processes or any unused chemicals that may be considered chemical waste.

Hazards related to the dangerous goods at your premises must be identified, the risks assessed and risk controls implemented.

WorkSafe recommend that the occupier of premises obtain advice from suitably qualified persons about the safe storage and handling of dangerous goods.

A manufacturer or supplier of dangerous goods must provide you with a copy of the current safety data sheet (SDS) for any dangerous goods supplied to you. There are also legal requirements for packaging dangerous goods, which require certain markings, class or hazard class information to be included on labels. This packaging will help identify the dangerous goods, precautions for use, and safe storage and handling requirements.

Schedule 2 of the Regulations details the specific requirements for placarding, manifests and fire protection. These requirements are important for emergency preparedness and to assist authorities that respond to an emergency.

When you need to notify WorkSafe

The table in Schedule 2 of the Regulations includes a column headed ‘Manifest Quantity’. An occupier of premises where dangerous goods are stored and handled in quantities that exceed those specified in that column must ensure that WorkSafe is notified of the presence of those dangerous goods.

Penalties

It is a criminal offence for an occupier of a premises to fail to notify WorkSafe of the presence of dangerous goods in the quantities outlined above. 

Based on the current penalty unit rate of $161.19, failure to notify WorkSafe of stored or handled dangerous goods can lead to penalties of up to:

First offence

  • for a person $16,119.00 plus $1,611.90 for each day the offence continues after a conviction
  • for a body corporate $64,476.00 plus $8,059.50 for each day the offence continues after a conviction

Second or subsequent offence

  • for a person $80,595.00 or up to 5 years’ imprisonment
  • for a body corporate $402,975.00

Breaching the DG Act may also constitute a breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act), for example, where an employer or self-employed person exposes others (including members of the public), to risks to health and safety. Offences under the OHS Act may attract penalties that are higher than those listed above.