The safe storage of dangerous goods such as toxins, corrosive chemicals, reactive elements, and explosives is not an easy task. And whether we like it or not, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. Unfortunately, there has been a growing trend among facilities and workplaces in which shipping containers that have been retired or decommissioned from freight service are used as chemical storage sheds. On the one hand, there are some pros to this approach – used shipping containers are relatively cheap and easy to source, are decently sized, and also contribute to the global recycling effort by repurposing unused products. On the other hand, standard shipping containers are not designed to safely store dangerous chemicals, as the materials they are made out of are actually susceptible to damage by the very chemicals they are supposed to contain. It should also be noted that shipping containers are often decommissioned as it has sustained corrosion damage from saltwater and debris – should that be the case, then, they are even less capable of storing hazardous chemicals.
So, them, what should a proper chemical storage shed have in order to be compliant with national safety regulations? And would it be possible for a shipping container to be repurposed to meet those standards? We’ll be discussing that after the jump. It is also worthwhile speaking with a professional who can correctly advise you on all things dangerous goods and storage.
Chemical Storage Containers
The specific regulations and requirements for the proper handling and storage of dangerous goods are outlined by various Australian Standard codes depending on the type of hazardous material in question. For example, the code outlining the regulations for handling and storing flammable liquids falls under AS1940-2017, while those for explosives are found under AS2187.1-1998, and so on. To keep this article short, we will not be discussing these codes in further detail; what you do need to know, however, is to make sure that all of your dangerous goods are kept in their original containers and not transferred or decanted into food or beverage containers.
This should be done for many reasons; for one, the original containers of hazardous chemicals are already designed to meet all of the required specifications for their storage. After all, the purpose of a chemical storage shed is to provide a safe, controlled environment for the storage of these chemicals. By placing strong chemicals (especially acids and bases) into containers not designed to hold them, you will be placing the containers and the storage shed at risk of corrosion damage, which can cause chemical leaks that will wreak further damage on the surrounding area.
Chemicals should also be kept in their original containers since these containers come with all of the necessary safety labels such as the GHS. These labels are designed to help workers identify the type of chemicals in the container, as well as guidelines on their proper handling and storage. If chemicals need to be moved out of their original containers, make sure that the new containers have the appropriate labelling and meet the Australian Standard for the storage of these chemicals. In the same way, the chemical storage shed itself should be properly marked on the outside with the appropriate hazard labels indicating the types of chemicals inside.
Hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol may not be terms heard often at home, but they are actually commonly found within the home in the form of muriatic acid and antifreeze, respectively. These, as well as many other chemicals, create poisonous vapours that can damage the skin, eyes, and the respiratory system if you come into contact with them or breathe them in. It is absolutely important, then, to make sure that your chemical storage shed is properly ventilated so that these vapours are prevented from building up within the shed and putting workers at a severe health risk from inhalation of these chemical vapours.
Although we try to avoid it, chemical spills do happen. That is why a proper chemical shed should be built with a couple of important features to properly contain these spills and prevent them from leaking out into the environment. The first of these features is called floor bunding, which creates a lowered, dish-like floor area into which chemicals will spill (other designs involve a steel mesh floor set above the bunded concrete floor). Although requirements vary from country to country, a general rule of thumb is to design the bund’s capacity such that it can hold at least 110% of the volume of the largest container or 25% of the volume of all of the chemicals to be stored in the shed, whichever is higher.
Another important feature is that the bunded floor should be made out of concrete or other chemically inert material. Other materials should be avoided since, in the case of tiled floors, the way they are built makes it difficult to clean them out after a spill, while wood floors are absorbent by design, which puts the entire shed at risk of a powerful chemical reaction if another spilled chemical reacts with the chemicals that are retained within the wood.
Other Safety Features
The safety features we’ve discussed so far are those particularly important or unique to chemical storage in general. However, this does not mean that all of the safety features that are required within the workplace are to be ignored or glossed over when it comes to your chemical storage shed. For the sake of brevity, we will be listing these features down below:
- Easy passage, entry, and exit with proper markings
- Fire, UV, and weather-resistant construction
- Lockable, child-proof doors
- Proper lighting
- Available PPE set, first aid kit, spill cleanup kit, and fire extinguisher
- Nearby emergency shower and eyewash station with sufficient water supply
- Proper chemical segregation and organisation
Returning to the question we posed at the beginning of this article, is it possible to use a shipping container as a chemical storage shed? As shipping containers are not designed to comply with the safety regulations we have previously discussed, expect to have significant modifications done on the container before you can safely store your chemicals inside. In that case, then, it would be much more convenient for you to simply purchase proper chemical storage solutions that meet all of the necessary requirements from the get-go, and to that end, HiCraft Safety has you covered. HiCraft Safety is the leading occupational health and safety provider in Australia, offering chemical storage solutions that meet national-level specifications in a variety of sizes to fit your needs. Beyond that, we also offer hundreds of work-ready equipment ranging from high-visibility workwear to personal protective equipment to signage, power tools, and more.