Warning over explosion dangers when modifying storage drums

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.
Tuesday, 1 February, 2022 - 12:45
Policy & legislation
South Australia

SafeWork SA recently issued a safety alert following an incident which occurred on a farm outside Cowell in which a worker sustained serious burns whilst cutting into a steel drum using oxy-acetylene equipment.

The worker was alone at the time of the incident, and SafeWork SA said investigations are continuing. This follows a similar incident that occurred in 2019.

The alert said to first check if a container was used to store flammable liquid or gas. Look for the hazard diamond symbol and do not cut into any drum that:

  • includes the hazard diamond symbol, or
  • has contained flammable or combustible liquids, or
  • where the contents of the drum or container are unknown.

Even drums that have been empty for a very long time can contain enough residual substance to explode and/or emit hazardous vapour when exposed to heat. The alert said to also be aware that rinsing drums with water does not guarantee vapours are purged.

If there is no alternative but to cut into the container, check:

  • the safety data sheet and the manufacturer’s instructions and precautions before performing any work on the container
  • the container has been properly cleaned and certified vapour-free by a competent person
  • that there are safe work processes in place to manage the hazard and ensure all workers understand and are properly trained on these processes
  • there are no ignition sources near the cutting area
  • controls are in place to extinguish any flames that may eventuate.

Before conducting any hazardous work, the alert said to always provide proper training and supervision to workers so they understand the hazards and risks associated with the task.

Never weld, grind or do any other hot work activity near-empty drums. Do not use drums as a welding or work platform.

Store empty drums with bungs removed in a well-ventilated place away from other work areas. Removing the bung will not guarantee all hazardous residues and vapours have been naturally vented.

The alert also said to keep the drum away from oxyacetylene torches, naked flames or sparks from grinding and welding equipment.