The Department of Labour is reminding businesses to ensure procedures designed to protect staff from exposure to chemical leaks are kept up to date and equipment is regularly checked.
'Failure to do these things can prove costly – both for employers and employees,' says Department of Labour Workplace Services Central Regional Manager Brett Murray.
Mr Murray was speaking after Aotearoa Coolstores Ltd was last week fined $42,000 in the Napier District Court after pleading guilty to one charge (relating to seven employees) of breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The charge followed an ammonia leak from a compressor at the company's Feilding coolstore on 28 November 2007.
Mr Murray says on that morning an ammonia smell built up in the plant. 'By 11am most staff members were feeling unwell. Some employees were found lying on the floor of the cafeteria suffering breathing difficulties, nausea, and vomiting.'
He says while seven staff were taken by ambulance to hospital, all recovered quickly after treatment and soon returned to work.
However, the workplace had to be closed for the rest of the day because the presence of ammonia represented an ongoing health hazard.
Mr Murray says the incident could easily have been prevented, with an ammonia sensor situated within two metres of the offending compressor not working at the time.
He says the Department of Labour identified a number of practical steps the company could have taken to ensure the safety of its employees.
'It should have had a system to identify all hazards on the site and inform all staff and visitors of those hazards. It should also have ensured that all plant and equipment was inspected regularly and maintained in a safe condition.'
'It should also have listened to complaints from staff and visitors about an ammonia smell and contracted a skilled refrigeration engineer to investigate.'
Mr Murray says the case emphasises that companies need to identify all hazards in their workplaces and then take all practicable steps to eliminate, isolate or minimise them. 'Health and safety can cost money. But the costs of not taking it seriously – including injured workers and lost productivity – can be much more expensive in the long run.'
Reproduced with permission from Department of Labour, from a 14 July 2009 media release on the Department of Labour website, www.dol.govt.nz.
See July Touchstone article about IPENZ releases Coldstore good practice design guidelines. (http://www.standards.co.nz/touchstone/Issue+07/Engineering/IPENZ+releases+Coldstore+good+practice+design+guidelines.htm)
Related New Zealand Standards
Chemicals and safety
→ SNZ HB 76:2008 Dangerous goods – Initial emergency response guide.
→ AS/NZS 1677.1:1998 Refrigerating systems – Refrigerant classification.
→ AS/NZS 1677.2:1998 Refrigerating systems – Safety requirements for fixed applications.
→ AS/NZS 2022:2003 Anhydrous ammonia – Storage and handling.
→ AS/NZS 2243.1:2005 Safety in laboratories – Planning and operational aspects.
→ AS/NZS 2243.2:2006 Safety in laboratories – Chemical aspects.
→ AS/NZS 2243.3:2002 Safety in laboratories – Microbiological aspects and containment facilities.
→ AS/NZS 2243.5:2004 Safety in laboratories – Non-ionizing radiations – Electromagnetic, sound and ultrasound.
→ AS/NZS 2243.8:2006 Safety in laboratories – Fume cupboards.
→ AS/NZS 2243.9:2009 Safety in laboratories – Recirculating fume cabinets.
→ AS/NZS 2243.10:2004 Safety in laboratories – Storage of chemicals.
→ AS/NZS 2927:2001 The storage and handling of liquefied chlorine gas.
→ AS/NZS 3833:2007 The storage and handling of mixed classes of dangerous goods, in packages and intermediate bulk containers.
→ AS/NZS 4081:2001 The storage and handling of liquid and liquefied polyfunctional isocyanates.
→ NZS 4403:1976 Code of practice for the storage, handling and use of explosives (Explosives Code).
→ AS/NZS 4452:1997 The storage and handling of toxic substances.
→ AS/NZS 4681:2000 The storage and handling of Class 9 (miscellaneous) dangerous goods and articles.
→ AS/NZS 4745:2004 Code of practice for handling combustible dusts.
→ NZS 6102:1976 Code of practice for the storage, handling and maintenance of automotive lead-acid starter batteries.
→ NZS 8409:2004 Management of agrichemicals.
→ AS/NZS 2161.1:2000 Occupational protective gloves – Selection, use and maintenance.
→ AS/NZS 2161.2:2005 Occupational protective gloves – General requirements.
→ AS/NZS 2161.10.1:2005 Occupational protective gloves – Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms – Terminology and performance requirements.
→ AS/NZS 2161.10.2:2005 Occupational protective gloves – Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms – Determination of resistance to penetration.
→ AS/NZS 2161.10.3:2005 Occupational protective gloves – Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms – Determination of resistance to permeation by chemicals.
→ AS/NZS 4503.2:1997 Protective clothing – Protection against liquid chemicals – Test method: Determination of resistance to penetration by a jet of liquid (Jet test).
→ AS/NZS 4503.3:1997 Protective clothing – Protection against liquid chemicals – Test method: Determination of resistance to penetration by spray (Spray test).
→ AS/NZS ISO 6529:2006 Protective clothing – Protection against chemicals – Determination of resistance of protective clothing materials to permeation by liquids and gases.
→ AS/NZS ISO 6530:2006 Protective clothing – Protection against liquid chemicals – Test method for resistance of materials to penetration by liquids.
→ AS/NZS ISO 13994:2006 Clothing for protection against chemicals – Determination of the resistance of protective clothing materials to penetration by liquids under pressure.
→ AS/NZS ISO 22608:2007 Protective clothing – Protection against liquid chemicals –Measurement of repellency, retention, and penetration of liquid pesticide formulations through protective clothing materials.
→ AS/NZS ISO 2210.3:2009 Specification for safety footwear.
→ AS/NZS ISO 2210.4:2009 Specification for protective footwear.
→ AS/NZS ISO 2210.5:2009 Specification for occupational footwear.