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Dangerous Substances & Explosive Atmospheres

Dangerous Substances & Explosive Atmospheres

Your legal responsibility

You must protect people from risks to their safety from fires, explosions and similar energy-releasing events in the workplace. This includes members of the public who may be at risk by work-related activities.

Dangerous substances are substances in your workplace that could cause a fire or explosion. They include solvents, paints, varnishes, flammable gases and dust (such as from machines and foodstuffs).

What law applies?

  • The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002
  • The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 ('DSEAR')

Activities that involve dangerous substances

The following examples (from the Health and Safety Executive's website) show the type of activities that could cause a fire or explosion:

  • Storage of petrol as a fuel for cars, boats or horticultural machinery
  • Use of flammable gases, such as acetylene, for welding
  • Handling and storage of waste dusts in a range of manufacturing industries
  • Handling and storage of flammable wastes, such as fuel oils
  • Welding or other 'hot work' on tanks and drums that have contained flammable material
  • Work that could release naturally occurring flammable substances, such as methane in coalmines or at landfill sites
  • Use of flammable solvents in laboratories
  • Storage and display of flammable goods, such as paints, in shops
  • Filling, storing and handling aerosols with flammable propellants such as LPG
  • Transporting flammable substances in containers around a workplace
  • Deliveries from road tankers, such as petrol and bulk powders
  • Chemical manufacturing, processing and warehousing
  • The petrochemical industry, both onshore and offshore

Assessing the risks

When you carry out The 5-step approach to risk assessments, you must identify:

  • The dangerous substances in the workplace
  • The work activities involving those substances
  • The ways that those substances and work activities could harm people

Preventing and controlling risks

You should consider replacing the dangerous substance with another harmless substance, or using a different work process.

If you can't remove the risk completely, you must control the risks and reduce the severity of the effects of any fire or explosion.

You should implement the following control measures:

1. Reduce the number of dangerous substances to a minimum

2. Avoid or minimise releases of dangerous substances

3. Control how much dangerous substances are released at source

4. Prevent a dangerous atmosphere from forming

5. Collect, contain and remove any releases to a safe place (e.g. through ventilation)

6. Avoid ignition sources

7. Avoid bad conditions that could be hazardous (e.g. avoid exceeding the temperature limits)

8. Keep incompatible substances apart

Reducing the severity of the effects of a dangerous substance

In addition to control measures, you should:

  • Reduce the number of employees exposed to the risk
  • Provide substances that is resistant to exploding
  • Provide explosion suppression or explosion relief equipment
  • Take measures to control or minimise the spread of fires or explosions
  • Provide suitable Personal protective equipment

Preparing for an emergency

You must plan to deal with emergencies. The plan should include safety drills, and suitable communication and warning systems. It should be in proportion to the risks identified in the assessment.

You should show the information in the emergency plans and procedures to the emergency services to allow them to develop their own plans if necessary.

If an emergency occurs, you must give repair workers the appropriate safety equipment.

Providing information, instruction and training for employees

You must give your employees relevant information, instructions and training, including details of:

  • Dangerous substances in the workplace and the risks they present
  • Where to find any relevant safety data sheets and information on any other relevant legislation
  • The risk assessment, including the findings and the control measures put in place
  • The purpose of the control measures, and how to follow and use them
  • Emergency procedures

You don't need to provide this for non-employees, unless it's needed to ensure their safety.

You must remember to clearly label pipes, containers, etc, if they contain dangerous substances.

Places where explosive atmospheres may occur

When air mixes with a dangerous substance, such as flammable gases, it could risk causing an explosion. To prevent this risk, you must:

  • Identify and classify (zone) areas where potentially explosive atmospheres may occur
  • Avoid ignition sources in zoned areas, in particular those from electrical and mechanical equipment
  • Where necessary, identify the entrances to zoned areas
  • Provide appropriate anti-static clothing for employees
  • Verify the overall explosion protection safety of areas where explosive atmospheres may occur

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