Major hazard facilities (MHFs) are industrial sites that store, handle or process large quantities of chemicals and dangerous goods.
They are an essential part of the state’s infrastructure, providing important products and services.
Victoria has around 40 MHF sites, which must comply with stringent legal requirements to ensure they are operated safely. Examples include oil refineries, chemical manufacturing sites, gas-processing plants, LPG facilities, and some warehouses and transport depots.
Laws governing major hazard facilities
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Part 5.2 – Major hazard facilities) contain specific duties for operators and employees of major hazard facilities in order to prevent major incidents that may lead to injury and death.
The Regulations impose specific legal responsibilities on operators and employers for the safe management and operation of major hazard facilities.
Common risks with major hazard facilities
Major hazard facilities use significant quantities of hazardous substances and other potentially dangerous materials. If something goes wrong, an incident at a MHF can be catastrophic for employees, the community and the environment.
While major incidents are uncommon, they do occur and can result in fire, explosion and the release of hazardous substances.
A major incident, such as the one that occurred at the Longford gas plant in 1998, can result in loss of life and property damage on a very large scale.
Managing and controlling the risks
Preventing major incidents in Victoria
The regulations require MHF operators to identify and prevent or control major incidents that could occur at their site.
The regulations set rigorous requirements for operators of MHFs to ensure greater protection for:
- workers at the facility
- the surrounding community
- the infrastructure that the facility needs to keep operating safely
MHF operators must be licensed by WorkSafe. To gain a licence, operators must demonstrate – by means of a safety case – that they can properly manage the risk of and hazards associated with a major incident safety. Licenses are reassessed for renewal at least every five years.
Every MHF must have a safety case
A safety case is developed by the operator for their facility’s unique operation and situation. It can only be prepared after a full examination of the site’s activities and with the involvement of employees from the different workgroups and functional areas of the site.
MHF operators must ensure major incident prevention and control measures identified in the Safety Case are implemented and fully functional. An effective safety management system ensures control measures remain functional.
Safety cases are reviewed by WorkSafe and must demonstrate facility safety before a licence can be granted.
Safety is a co-operative effort
The regulations recognise the important role of workers and others in developing the Safety Case and maintaining safe operations at a MHF.
Employees must be consulted. Employees have valuable operating knowledge and may also have safety improvement ideas. Contractors that perform specialised work at a MHF are also covered by the safety case.
Local councils and emergency services must also be consulted and informed about the safety case.
MHF emergency plans must be prepared in conjunction with relevant emergency services, typically the fire brigade.
MHF operators must also inform the local council of the facility’s system for alerting the community in the event of a major incident, and provide information on the safety case which community members can access at local libraries.
Monitoring and improving safety performance
Operators of MHFs must maintain effective major incident prevention and control measures, and have an up-to-date safety case.
This ongoing commitment to improving safety is important. Operators must monitor their performance and review the effectiveness of safety systems and controls and make improvements where needed. Operators also need to monitor technical developments and best practice in their industry, applying the lessons to their own facility.
WorkSafe inspectors and process safety analysts conduct a planned programme of inspections and visits to independently verify that MHF operators continue to meet their responsibilities.
WorkSafe inspection plans are tailored to each individual MHF, and if problems are found, WorkSafe will direct the MHF operator to fix them. If an immediate risk is found, WorkSafe will prohibit the activity.
Access to information about major hazard facilities
- Members of the local community
As a resident, employee, business operator or other person involved in a local community, you can access information about a MHF from your local council, library or MHF operator.
The sort of information available includes:
- a summary of the Safety Case and a copy of the MHF licence
- information on operations at the MHF and the materials used there
- information on the range of hazards at the facility and potential major incidents
- how the local community would be notified should a major incident occur, and what people should do
- Local councils
Municipal councils representing local communities are entitled to information and consultation with MHFs. Sometimes, a MHF’s local community may be within the boundaries of two or more municipalities and some councils have several MHFs within their boundaries.
Council involvement with a MHF includes:
- consultation on emergency planning as it affects the community
- the MHF working with council emergency planning staff
- receiving information on the MHF for reference purposes
- receiving information to be held at public libraries
WorkSafe consults with councils during relevant inquiries on MHF issues such as determination, deregistration or licence surrender.
- Emergency services and Victorian Government agencies
Government agencies involved in the regulation of MHFs may need to coordinate with each other to ensure the efficient and effective regulation of the facilities. To help achieve this, WorkSafe and key Victorian government agencies involved with MHFs have entered into memoranda of understanding (MOU).
Emergency services must also be consulted in MHF emergency plan preparation, and involved in periodical testing and review of plans.
The MHF must provide copies of the emergency plan to emergency services and have a copy available on site. WorkSafe will consult with other agencies (including those under a MOU) during relevant inquiries on MHF issues such as determination of a site as a MHF, Safety Case assessment, deregistration or licence surrender.