Alert issued after paint mixing machine ignites flammable vapours

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 15 May, 2023 - 12:30
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert for employers, and occupiers of premises that store dangerous goods, about the dangers of using electrical equipment that is not rated for use in hazardous areas. 

The alert was issued following an incident where an employee was injured after 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, dust 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 and 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 that cannot produce a spark capable of starting a fire. 

The alert said employers and occupiers of premises, where dangerous goods are stored and handled, must identify hazards and assess the risks that may cause harm to employees and others who are exposed.  

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), and/or an ignition source (such as electrical equipment, a spark or an open flame). 

The risk of a fire or explosion caused by flammable vapours can be controlled, according to the alert, which recommends some ways to control the risk: 

  • 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 functioning efficiently. 

  • Keep containers closed when not in use. 

  • Store containers away from hazardous areas. 

  • Dispose of any unused flammable liquids.