Storage And Handling Of Dangerous Goods – Knowledge Centre


Installing the best available workplace storage, handling and safety equipment for dangerous goods must be a top priority. No hazard has more laws controlling it because no hazard can be as deadly. Those laws exist to protect life, property and the environment from poisoning, corrosion, chemical burns, suffocation, fire, explosion and pollution.

There are more than 5000 potentially dangerous or hazardous substances on Australia’s GHS Hazardous Chemical Information List. New chemicals are developed around the world each year to improve industrial processes. More than 750 new chemicals were added to the list in mid-2018.

Australia’s trinity of dangerous goods, workplace safety and environment protection laws cover the lifecycle of dangerous goods from manufacture and supply to transport, storage, handling and use. Proper storage is vital to ensure containers of chemicals, substances and gases are secure from damage, leaks, and spills. Flammable and reactive goods must be stored according to strict requirements to ensure segregation and isolation from ignition sources and reactive mixing.


Many commonly used chemicals may cause pollution or environmental damage, and risk to life, if they escape from their workplace storage. A secondary containment system is essential at premises storing liquids in large quantities where the risk of harm greatly increases.

Containment systems need to be effective and robust enough to allow sufficient time for workers and emergency service responders to clean up safely and with minimum damage to the environment. The main types of spill containment are:

  • double-walled containers or bladders
  • spill drains connected to an impounding basin or catchment
  • sloping working surface to contain spills within a contoured boundary
  • bunding the working area to form a compound
  • enclosing a container with a bund.

Bunding is the most used system for on-ground and for some above ground bulk storage installations. It is preferred as a risk control system because a range of effective ready-made systems are available for immediate use or can be easily retrofitted to existing buildings and outdoor installations.

Systems include bibs, trays, caddys, spill control pallets and spill bins for drums and IBC containment bunding and specially designed and made systems for large storage.


Bunding is considered necessary when storage reaches 1200 litres as would be the case where liquids are stored in several drums, or in any situation where there is no procedure for cleaning up a spill.

In determining the most suitable bunding solution, with advice from suppliers, the following matters should be considered in relation to the layout of the premises:

  • the system has the capacity to contain spills within the premises for each dangerous liquid and is clear of stormwater drains
  • safe capacity is at least 100 per cent of the full containment capacity for a main storage tank plus displacement volume and or at least 25 per cent capacity of a portable drum plus displacement
  • materials used in a bunding system, including piping, are impervious to the corrosive effects of the dangerous liquid being stored
  • in the case of a dangerous liquid in an isolated tank, the containment for that tank must not be able to mix with any incompatible substances
  • isolated tanks are enclosed in a bund of the correct height - partial or full-height bund - depending on the type of substance and tank
  • the space between the side of a tank or drums and the edge of bunds should be half the height of the container
  • in the case of bunding for overhead storage eg drums or containers placed in a high-rise racking by forklift, the capacity and stability of the storage will need to take into account additional weight and bulk of the bunding
  • the capacity of an open bund has sufficient additional volume to also contain any fire water eg sprinkler system output for a minimum of 20 minutes, or other substance needed to control a spill
  • outdoor bunds will need to have a drain for rainfall to ensure spill containment remains at full capacity
  • bunds have a secure and safe system for removal of the spill and fire water eg piping, and capacity for a full spill containment in an emergency eg spill tank, isolated drain, basin or pit.
  • spill containment materials and treatments that may need to be used with the bund eg absorbent materials, barriers, booms and retardants, are not affected by the dangerous substances.

Once a system has been selected site owners should consult with the emergency services to verify that the type and intended location of the bund and any impounding basin will not affect the operations of emergency services eg deployment of firefighting equipment. Appropriate safety equipment should always be utilized including spill kits and safety showers. Consultation may also be required with the environment authority.

Risk assessment

Systems for safe storage and containment of dangerous liquids have to keep pace with development in chemical products to ensure effective solutions are available for workplaces. What might have been safe a few years ago may not be acceptable today.

The choice of any type of spill containment system should take into account all hazards and risks of storing and handling the type of dangerous goods in use on the premises. Assessment should also determine if the bunding system is appropriate to the type of work and the area where it will be used in the premises. It should not introduce any new risk eg being struck by a forklift or in a space where access is limited in the event of an emergency.

What the law says

The laws dictating the safety and security of dangerous goods at workplaces and in transit stem from the Federal Government’s Australian Dangerous Good Code (ADG code). Each Australian jurisdiction implements this national model under its own laws. The ADG code can be found here.

The most recent advice on storage and handling of dangerous goods, which covers bunding, can be found in the Victorian Dangerous Good Storage and Handling Code of Practice 2013.

The code is based on Australian Standard AS 1940:2004 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids.

Specific technical advice on bunding can be found in the Victorian Environment Protection Authority Bunding guidelines 2015.






The new national guide to classifying hazardous chemicals for safe use in workplaces was released in August 2018.

Safe Work Australia’s “Classifying hazardous chemicals: National guide” updates the advice on how to apply the latest edition of the “Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals” that is known as the GHS.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has not only updated its guide to incorporate the latest internationally recognised requirements in the third edition of the GHS but has revised the content to make it simpler and more practical for Australian manufacturers, suppliers and importers to work through the classification process.

The overhaul of the guide followed discussions with industry, business users, regulators and representative bodies on how to give technical information and advice in a better way and make instructions that are easier to follow. It also goes into detail in areas where industry wanted more technical advice.

This update lists a range of comprehensive chemical databases to complement the GHS process and fill any gaps in knowledge about specific chemicals. Worked examples are added for the first time to help small business with the process and where existing data can be applied to GHS criteria to avoid a repeat of testing.

Assessing risk

Improved labelling and safety data sheet information by applying the latest guide will help many businesses reduce risk of injury to workers from use, handling, storage or transport of potentially harmful substances, especially those that are new.

Risks include exposure to chemicals from contact, absorption, ingestion or inhalation or related risk eg escape of substance causing asphyxiation or fire or dangerous reaction with other materials that may cause an explosion.

The properties of correctly classified harmful and toxic substances can be identified by referring to uniform labelling and requesting standardised and detailed safety information from the supplier in an up-to-date Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This information will specify safety measures that may vary from isolating the substance or equipping workers with effective personal protective equipment eg breathing protection.

What the laws says

The GHS is an internationally standardised method of consistent information and terms to classify and communicate chemical hazards on labels and in SDS. The GHS has been developed through co-operation between the United Nations, the International Labour Office and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Australia has implemented the GHS through national model workplace safety laws ie hazardous substances regulations. The updated guide reflects the requirements of the GHS and is therefore effectively the mandatory classification and labelling criteria for workplace chemicals in Australia.

Businesses requiring more information and details on the guide’s applicability should contact their local safety regulator to check how it applies in their jurisdiction. This may be necessary because national model laws are not in place in Victoria and Western Australia and some provisions of the model laws may differ between jurisdictions that have adopted them at different times and varied provisions to suit local practice.

A copy of the updated “Classifying hazardous chemicals: National guide” can be downloaded from the SWA website.

A copy of the GHS - “Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals” - can be downloaded from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website.