Oxidising agents: a hidden danger in many workplaces and warehouses!
Sure, they might not explode on their own, or necessarily affect workers’ health if they’re exposed to them. However, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous.
If you needed proof of that, just read our previous article about various hazchem classes – you’ll notice that oxidising agents have their very own category, next to explosives and corrosive acids.
Make no mistake, oxidising agents are dangerous, and need their very own hazchem signs and emergency information signs to maintain workplace safety!
So you’ve got a shipment of new products, agents or supplies coming in – some of which are oxidising agents.
What are the risks, and what can you do?
Time for a chemistry lesson: oxidation, explained
Every atom contains three parts:
Protons and neutrons band together to form the core of the atom (nucleus), while electrons are the particles that fly around.
When certain substances are located next to each other, the atoms in one of the substances may be drawn to the other. The atom that gives electrons away is said to be oxidised, while the one that gains new electrons is said to be reduced – together, this process is known as redox.
Iron is a great example.
Oxygen acts as an oxidiser for iron, dragging electrons away from iron atoms. This leaves behind iron oxide – rust, in other words.
Despite the name, oxidation doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with oxygen – oxygen was simply the first substance that people noticed had an oxidising effect, hence the name.
When it comes to hazchem however, the definition of oxidation is slightly different.
Instead of referring to the transfer of electrons, oxidation refers to the transfer of atoms – specifically, oxygen atoms.
Basically, oxidising agents in hazchem are materials that create oxygen.
While oxidising materials aren’t necessarily flammable or combustible themselves, they have the potential to greatly contribute to your fire risk. An oxygen-rich environment can dramatically increase the potency of fire – as we all know, fire needs oxygen to burn.
When oxidising agents are placed in close proximity to flammable or combustible substances, you create a severe fire and explosion hazard – that’s why there’s a whole class of hazchem signs, just for these substances!
In some cases, it’s this act of transferring oxygen atoms that can cause a fire or explosion, as more potent oxidation reactions can cause heat and gas to build up if stored inappropriately.
Examples of oxidising agents include:
- Nitrous oxide
Staying safe around oxidising agents
Have you just received a shipment with a hazchem sign identifying the cargo as oxidising agents? If so, you’ll need to start by…
Step 1: identify oxidising agents
Luckily for you, any shipments containing oxidising agents will come with a hazchem sign, warning you of their oxidising effects. This immediately tells you the type of risk you’re dealing with, and allows you to plan around them.
Manufacturers and suppliers of dangerous and hazardous goods are required by law to provide safety data sheets about their products.
With oxidising agents, these data sheets will tell you everything you need to know about the substance you’ve just received, including:
- Toxicity (if relevant)
- Potential negative health effects
- Proper storage requirements
Most importantly, it will also tell you which others substances the oxidising agent is incompatible with. Certain oxidising agents are incompatible with other oxidising agents, and will react dangerously when in close proximity.
Once you know this, you’ll be able to separate oxidising materials from incompatible substances.
Step 2: create a safe storage space
Once you’ve figured out a system for storing oxidising agents, the next step is to find a place to store them.
Naturally, you’ll want to start by keeping oxidising agents far away from any substances that may combust – oxygen plus flammable materials isn’t exactly a winning combo!
For milder oxidisers, we recommend at least 5 metres worth of separation in a well-ventilated area.
If it’s a more potent oxidising agent however, Australian Standard AS4326 mandates that these agents should be stored in special ventilated storage cabinets.
These cabinets come with a range of requirements:
- Double-walled sheet metal construction
- A minimum of 40mm spacing between walls
- Must be airtight
- Bright, yellow colour
- Perforated shelving for air flow
- Volume limits (250L for indoor cabinets, 850L for outdoor ones)
Step 3: designate storage spaces with hazchem signs
Once you’ve figured out a system for storing oxidising agents, the final step is to ensure everybody on-site knows about it.
That means incorporating it into your induction process, and identifying any storage areas with the appropriate hazchem signs.
Any storage areas and cabinets for oxidising agents should be clearly labelled with an oxidising agent hazchem sign. This identifies that this particular area contains oxidisers, and immediately alerts your workers that any flammable or combustible substances should be kept away.
Consider backing these hazchem signs up with a custom safety sign or two.
Your custom safety sign might highlight the symptoms of a leak in a storage cabinet, as well as the proper procedure should one of your cabinets fail.
In other cases, your custom sign might be used to identify specific oxidising agents, as well as substances they need to be kept separate from.
At Signsmart, we’re all about making your workplace safer
Stay safe with Signsmart’s range of hazchem signs and emergency information panels!
Oxidising agents are an often misunderstood part of workplace safety. Luckily for you, Signsmart is here to help.
In addition to supplying hazchem signs and emergency information panels that inform and keep your workers safe, we also help you understand your safety obligations if it’s your first time dealing with oxidising agents.
Our team can share common examples of oxidising agents, as well as how potent they are. Since we have access to the entire library of Australian Standards, we can also help you understand your storage requirements.
All of which helps us keep you safe!