Paint mixing machine ignites flammable vapours
WorkSafe reminds employers and occupiers of premises where dangerous goods are stored about the dangers of using electrical equipment that is not rated for use in hazardous areas.
An employee was injured when a paint mixing machine ignited flammable vapours. The flammable vapours came from dangerous goods (paints and solvents) stored in the paint mixing area.
The paint mixing machine was not rated for use in a hazardous area.
Hazardous areas are places where flammable vapours, fumes, gases, dusts and mists are likely to be present in the air in a flammable or explosive concentration. For example, paint mixing or paint blending areas.
Small quantities of flammable liquids (such as an open container of flammable solvent or paint) can create a vapour cloud. Vapour clouds are often invisible and can build up quickly. If an ignition source is introduced into the area it may cause a fire or explosion.
Ignition sources that can ignite flammable vapours include electrical equipment with motors, power points, mobile phones, forklifts, and can also include heat, sparks and static electricity.
Only intrinsically safe equipment should be used within hazardous areas. Intrinsically safe equipment means equipment which cannot produce a spark capable of starting a fire.
Note: duty holders can find information on whether equipment is intrinsically safe in the equipment's supplier information or user manual.
Employers and occupiers of premises where dangerous goods are stored and handled must identify hazards that may cause harm to employees and other people and assess the risks. In areas where flammable vapours are likely to be present, look for:
- a fuel source, such as a flammable or combustible substance
- a source of oxygen (usually the air)
- an ignition source (such as an electrical equipment, spark, open flame)
Recommended ways to control risks
The risk of a fire or explosion caused by flammable vapours can be controlled. Some recommended ways to control the risk are to:
- Eliminate all ignition sources in hazardous areas.
- Ensure any plant or equipment used in a hazardous area is intrinsically safe. Check that the equipment is rated for use in a hazardous area, such as checking the rating within the supplier information.
- Reduce the likelihood of flammable vapours being present in the workspace:
- Ensure ventilation systems are maintained and are functioning efficiently.
- Keep containers closed when not in use.
- Store containers away from the hazardous areas.
- Dispose of any unused flammable liquids.
The Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2022 set out duties for occupiers of premises where dangerous goods are stored or handled. Relevantly, occupiers must ensure that:
- All reasonable precautions are taken to prevent any fire, explosion, damage to property or danger to the public involving dangerous goods.
- So far as is reasonably practicable, ignition sources are not present in any hazardous area within the premises.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 sets out duties for employers. 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.
- Eliminate the risk, and where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.
- Provide and maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health.
- Ensure the safety and the absence of risks to health when using, handling and storing substances.
- Maintain the workplace in a condition that is safe and without risks to employee's health.
- Ensure that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.
- Consult with employees, contractors and health and safety representatives about certain health and safety matters, including when identifying or assessing hazards or risks and making decisions about risk control measures.
Employers must also provide employees and contractors with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work safely and without risks to health.
At work, employees must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and for the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at the workplace.
The Code of Practice for the storage and handling of dangerous goods provides practical information on how to comply.