Bitumen and asphalt plant safety review in Queensland

A review of Queensland’s bitumen and asphalt plants’ management of fire and explosion hazards has revealed that safety is a priority but that more can still be done to improve safety.

The audit was conducted in response to three serious fires and explosions involving heated bitumen tanks. Inspectors found that all persons in control of a business or undertaking (PCBUs) had conducted a pre-inspection review and 73 percent of focus areas in the assessment tool were compliant. No improvement or prohibition notices were issued during the audit and majority of PCBUs volunteered to make improvements. Each PCBU spent around $ 18,000 and 40 hours to respond to the corrective actions identified during the audit.

While high levels of compliance were recorded, a few low levels of compliance were identified including:

  • 37 percent of PCBUs weren’t able to identify the flashpoint, auto-ignition point or maximum heating temperature for all bitumen products stored on site
  • 32 percent has not carried out or finalized a hazardous area classification
  • 29 percent did not have documented administrative controls for re-heating or re-commissioning bitumen storage tanks that may contain moisture/water
  • 18 percent of workplaces with classified hazardous areas had not recognised these areas in their controls for managing hot work
  • 18 percent required additional impact protection barriers for above ground tanks or pipework
  • 15 percent did not have documented administrative controls to respond to bitumen blockages
  • 15 percent did not have proactive system for inspecting, testing and maintaining their above ground tanks and pipework.

PCBUs gave a positive feedback on how the audit was conducted. The most common changes conducted during the audit were improving hazardous area management and improving the management of associated risks with the use of cutters with bitumen.

A report presented to the industry included a few recommendations including the development of procedures in responding to bitumen blockages and ensuring workers are trained; reviewing inspection and maintenance schedules for bitumen storage tanks and attachments and ensuring they meet the requirements of the Managing Risks of Plant in the Workplace Code of Practice 2013; and developing specific guides on WHS management at bitumen and asphalt plants.

A full industry report is available on Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s website.

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