Escape of Hazardous Materials
What are Hazardous Materials?
Examples of commonly occurring hazardous chemicals include:
- Cleaning chemicals, degreasers and detergents
- Gas cylinders, refrigerant gases, liquefied petroleum gas, diesel fuel and petrol
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Welding fumes
- Flammable liquids and gases
- Corrosives such as acids and alkalis
Hazardous chemicals can be a solid, liquid or a gas and they can be found at home or in the workplace. Direct contact with or exposure to a hazardous chemical, usually through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion can cause skin irritation, cancer, respiratory illnesses and have an adverse effect on your immediate and long-term health. They can also cause harm to property and have an adverse effect on the environment.
Why a Hazardous Materials Spill is Considered an Emergency?
A chemical spill or uncontrolled chemical release can be anything from a material spill on the street to a gas leak in your home. If not managed or handled correctly harmful chemicals can cause fires, explosions, corrosion, and hazardous reactions.
Harmful chemical spills have the potential to cause:
- Fire and smoke related injuries
- Explosion related injuries
- Skin exposure: Symptoms include skin dryness, blistering, redness, rashes, and itching.
- Eye exposure: The most common symptoms of eye exposure are burning, itching, and watering of the eyes.
- Respiratory tract exposure: Symptoms may include headache, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, and disorientation.
- Chronic disease
- A chemical spill can cause major disruption for many residents and neighbours if the following happens in the response and recovery phase:
- Road Closures
- Toxic Smoke release
- Environmental damage
In the event of a large scale spill many residents could be displaced anywhere from a few hours to an indefinite period.
What can I do?
Roles and responsibilities
The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, developed by the Council of Australian Governments, provides high-level guidance on disaster management to agencies with a role in emergency management. Foremost in the Strategy is the principle of all of society taking responsibility for preventing disasters.
In the context of hazardous chemical spills:
People should be aware of their own risks and should follow advice from emergency services when responding to warnings. It is important that you know how to protect yourself and others during a chemical release incident.
If an individual purchases and uses chemicals, they should know what the chemicals are for and have a control system for storage, use and disposal. Individuals should be aware of the following:
- The hazardous properties of the chemical
- Any potentially hazardous reaction (chemical or physical) between the hazardous chemical and another substance or mixture, including a substance that may be generated by the reaction
- The nature of the work to be carried out with the hazardous chemical
- Any structure, plant or system of work that is needed in the use, handling, generation or storage of the hazardous chemical or could interact with the hazardous chemical
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides information and guidance to help households and communities understand their rights and obligations with regard to a number of areas of concern such as water and air quality, radiation and site contamination.
Individuals can make an assessment of their local area, Search for environmental authorisations, orders and applications by using the EPA Public Register online directory.
Information on potentially contaminating activity in your area can be found at the EPA Search site contamination index. You will also find information about how you can provide feedback and input on EPA activities through their consultations section.
To increase community resilience, individuals should actively plan and prepare for protecting their own life and property. Resilience is also increased by knowing and being involved in local community disaster or emergency management arrangements, and volunteer role
Government agencies, local governments and communities
Organisations should include chemical spills and associated risk within their Community Emergency Risk Assessment activities. This includes consideration within emergency management planning and land use planning.
Resilience is developed through land management and planning arrangements, assessment of risks, supporting individuals and communities to prepare for extreme events, and having effective education programs available.
Additional prevention tasks carried out by state and local government include:
- Risk assessments to gain an appreciation of chemical spill risk
- Engaging with the community regarding chemical spill risk
- Working with communities to plan the management of chemical spills
- Providing emergency information and chemical spill warnings
- Ensuring an effective, well-coordinated response to a chemical spill event
- Helping communities to recover and learn following an chemical spill and build their resilience to future events
Private Industry and businesses
Businesses play a fundamental role in supporting a community’s resilience to disasters. They provide resources, expertise and essential services on which the community may depend.
Businesses, including critical infrastructure providers, can also make a contribution by understanding the risks that they face and ensuring that they are able to continue providing services during or soon after a disaster.
Businesses should plan for the risk of disruption, and ensure arrangements are in place to maintain critical services where required.
The links below are designed to help businesses plan for emergency situations:
Business Continuity Plans - A quick guide to impact analysis and plan development
Plan and prepare -
State Australian Government advice on how to protect your business
Businesses with harmful or hazardous chemicals
If your business uses, stores or transports chemicals there are a large number of work place health and safety duties you will need to undertake in order to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals.
Under the WHS Regulations Released by Safe Work Australia and published by the Parliamentary Counsels Committee businesses should manage the risks to health and safety associated with using, handling, generating and storing hazardous chemicals at a workplace.
If your business uses, stores or transports chemicals please visit the Safe Work Australia Hazardous Chemical page to find out more information on the actions your organisation should be taking to protect the community. There are also a number of duties specific to suppliers, manufacturers and importers which Safe Work Australia also provides advice on.
Failure to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals is a breach of model WHS laws.
Requirements for transporting hazardous chemicals
WHS Regulations do not apply to transporting hazardous chemicals. Instead there are laws in each state or territory that set out the requirements for transporting dangerous goods.
If you have questions about transporting hazardous chemicals or dangerous goods you can contact your local transport regulator:
- Competent authorities for the transport of dangerous goods by road and rail
- Civil Aviation Safety Authority
- Australian Maritime Safety Authority
- Some key points to note when transporting chemicals:
- When transporting Chemicals use a method suitable for the load
- High edges or spill trays will contain any spills or leaks
- Carry glass containers in bottle carriers or another leak resistant, unbreakable secondary container.
- Use a gas cylinder handcart when transporting large gas cylinders.
Things you can do now to prepare for a Chemical Spill event:
Understand your risk
Find out more about the area in which you live, including information on chemical notifications at the Location SA Map Viewer
Chemical Spill Notifications
Whilst it is not possible to predict the timing and size of a Chemical Spill, notifications are provided by the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service, who respond to and report on chemical spills within metropolitan areas. This is done on a 24/7 basis.
The South Australian Emergency Management Sector encourages every household, business and farm to have a written emergency plan. Information on how to develop a plan can be found on the South Australian Government Webpage
It is worthwhile having a plan for what you would do if your usual ways of getting groceries, petrol or medical supplies are disrupted or you are not able to return to your property for several days. Here are some suggestions of things you can do to prepare for a chemical spill:
- Put together an emergency kit - See our guide in the links section
- Be sure to have temporary care lined up for your pets
- Know how to turn off your utility connections
- Fix potential hazards in your home or business
- Investigate if your insurance policy protects you against this risk
- Create a list of the contents in your house complete with photographs. This will be useful for insurance claims and tax deductions following an event
- Find a fast and safe route to a place where you can be safe when leaving your home, place of work or school.
There are many groups of potentially vulnerable people (e.g. older adults, people with disabilities, people living in poverty) whose unique needs may not accounted for in chemical spill emergency plans.
Vulnerable people require more attention when they are experiencing an
Emergency emergency situation compared to everyone else. Planning to help friends and relatives who are considered vulnerable contributes greatly to emergency resilience in communities.
Preparing for a spill
If you are using, storing or transporting hazardous or toxic chemicals, at home or in your work place you should have a comprehensive spill plan prepared. Certain chemicals and quantities of chemicals will require you to notify the EPA, MFS and CFS of the details of your plan.
A documented process will outline the steps you are taking to prevent and contain a possible spill. It will include activities and fulfil the requirements associated with all relevant legislation including the storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids Australian Standard (AS 1940-2004)
Regular assessment of potential spills is required both at home and in the workplace. To ensure a safer environment prevent errors during an emergency and reduce risk to persons and property the essential elements of spill response preparation should be considered;
It is important that frequent inspections are made when using, storing or transporting hazardous or toxic chemicals:
- Containers should be in good condition (no cracks, gaps, corrosion, etc.)
- Equipment easily available and in working condition
- Absorbent mats, pads, and socks to prevent spills into walkways and drains are in use
- Adequate training should be provided to all individuals working with hazardous chemicals
- An individual's training certification should be up to date at all times
- Training should include:
- Actions for spill response specific to the chemicals involved.
- Guidelines for emergency response
Hazard information and written procedures
Identify and document possible spill types (oil, diesel, battery acid, biohazard, raw material, air emissions, etc.). Define if it is a potentially significant spill. Document the worst case scenario for each spill, and the potential size of the release.
If in a work place the information should be readily available to worksite personnel and should include Material Safety Data Sheets, signs, container labels, posters, and reference books. Information on the chemical hazards present at any worksite must be kept up-to-date.
Spill kits designed for specific types of chemical spill are considered a good practice. As part of all spill kits you should make sure the correct personal protective equipment is available.
A spill kit can:
- Reduce the potential of injuries caused by slips, trips and falls.
- Reduce exposure to dangerous gases
- Prevent chemical release to sewer and waterways
Spill kits are generally good for spills up to around 100 gallons. After that, additional tools and methods might be needed.
When large volumes of chemicals are being used you should consider use of a bund or dam to prevent spills spreading. A bund is an embankment or wall of brick, stone, concrete or other impervious material, which forms the perimeter and floor of a compound and provides a barrier to retain liquid.
Bunds should be designed to contain spillages and leaks of liquids used, stored or processed above ground and to facilitate clean-up operations. As well as being used to prevent pollution of the receiving environment, bunds are also used for fire protection, product recovery and process isolation.
The Environmental Protection Agency provides advice on bunding.
Build to Australia’s Building Codes
Australia’s building codes set out data and procedures for determining loads on structures and their components, whilst detailing minimum requirements for structures. Councils are responsible for ensuring the application of building code provisions. Please make sure you Contact Council if you require assistance from our development, planning and building services.
Protect your finances
Emergencies are really expensive and can become a significant long-term burden. To ensure that your finances are safeguarded you can protect your main income source by taking out life insurance and income protection insurance.
You should also give consideration to the costs of cleaning up damaged property and replacing lost items to protect your family if the household is affected by an emergency.
Check your insurance cover - A quick guide to understanding Insurance
Who do I Contact?
To report an emergency or life threatening situation call 000 (triple zero)
In the event of a severe chemical spill, the Metropolitan Fire Service will be the control agency responsible for managing the emergency response. Further information on who to contact in an Emergency can be found on our printable Emergency Contact List
For spills on marine & inland waters contact the Department of Planning, Transport & Infrastructure (DPTI)
Please contact Council or the EPA if you would like to report pollution or illegal dumping
If the situation is an emergency, please call the SA Police on 131 444
What do I do during a Chemical Spill?
Despite all of the prevention methods put in place, spills can happen:
If you are the first on the scene:
- Dial Triple Zero (000) and ask for Fire. provide as much information as you can without endangering yourself
- Address of incident
- Name of chemical involved if known
- Estimate the amount of chemical spilt
- Form of chemical (solid, liquid, gas),
- Details of any people affected or injured,
- Details of any vehicles involved
- Notify people in the immediate vicinity
- Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous chemical has been identified and it's safe to approach them.
- Try to remain upwind of the spill
- Don't touch or breathe in the chemical.
You should only attempt to manage the spill if you are trained to do so.
Enact your Spill Plan, ensure you are using the correct protective equipment and clean up methods, follow all instructions given to you by emergency services. Follow any written procedures you have in place for managing the spill.
Emergency Procedures should consider the immediate danger to persons and ensure effective containment and clean up, appropriate disposal of waste material and notification to all relevant authorities.
Do not touch any harmful substance.
- Take precautions to protect yourself if necessary.
- Evacuate persons not involved in contamination from the area.
- Isolate contaminated individuals
- Secure the area if possible
- Assist emergency response personnel and supply the Material Safety Data Sheets.
Follow all instructions given to you by emergency services.
If the area you are in is unsafe, make every effort to move yourself to a safe location.
If there is nowhere to shelter:
- Remain upwind, uphill and upstream.
- Avoid low lying areas (some hazardous gases and vapours are heavier than air and will accumulate in these areas).
- Try not to inhale gases, fumes or smoke. Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth.
- Do not approach the spill or walk through the chemical
If you are told to shelter inside:
- Go inside as quickly as possible
- shut all external windows and doors and turn off all heating and cooling
- Take with you:
- your pets
- emergency kit with food and water supplies
- your mobile phone and charger
- If necessary create a safe room:
- Shut the internal doors
- Seal areas where air can get in
- close curtains and blinds
- Tune into your local ABC radio station for information and updates.
Carbon dioxide will build up in a sealed room, dependant on the size of the room and the number of people in it. Contaminated air from outside will also gradually seep into the room, when this happens evacuation from the area is recommended.
- Don't leave the shelter unless you are told to do so by emergency services.
- Follow instructions from emergency services and associated authorities
- follow your emergency plan and take your emergency kit with you
Remember that hospitals, aged care facilities and schools may also be affected by the event and may need the support of the community.
Your own support group of friends, family and neighbours may not be available to you as they could have to manage their own recovery efforts.
Contact with hazardous chemicals
In most cases, emergency services will tell you what to do if you have been exposed to or come into contact with a hazardous chemical. Every situation will be different but if you haven't heard from emergency services and you need to act quickly:
- Remove your contaminated clothing (don't pull clothing over your head but cut it off)
- Wash yourself using a large amount of soap and water
- If your eyes are burning or you have blurred vision rinse your eyes with water for 10 to 15 minutes. If you were wearing contact lenses remove and dispose of them.
- Put the clothing (use rubber gloves or tongs to avoid touching the clothing) and then the gloves or tongs in a plastic bag, seal the bag and then seal the bag inside another plastic bag. Don't handle the bags or dispose of them. Wait for emergency services to tell you what to do.
All agencies will work in a swift, compassionate and pragmatic way to help communities recover from devastation. Communities will need to learn to innovate and adapt in the aftermath of disastrous events.
- If someone has come into contact with hazardous chemicals call 000 immediately
- Don't move a seriously injured person unless they're in immediate danger
- For life-threatening injuries call 000 (triple zero)
It is normal and very common for people who have been through a stressful event to experience anxiety, grief, sadness, anger, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. This reaction could be more severe in children and the elderly. Understanding that these are normal responses an abnormal event can aid you in coping effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours, and help you along the path to recovery. Below are some tips for looking after you:
- Take time to recognise that you have been through an extremely stressful event
- Accept help if it is offered
- Get plenty of rest, even if you can’t sleep, eat regular, healthy meals and exercise every day
- Make time to relax and to focus on your self-care
- Try to resume normal activities as soon as possible (but don’t overdo it)
Check on Friends and Family
Remember that hospitals, aged care facilities and schools may also be affected by the event and may need the support of the community.
Your own support group of friends, family and neighbours may not be available to you as they could have to manage their own recovery efforts.
First aid skills
In the immediate aftermath of a chemical spill people with first aid skills can become a very important resource for the community.
In the case of a large scale event; State and Local Government resources will be stretched to capacity and support from community members who know first aid will be beneficial for treating many non-life threatening injuries.
Find out more about how you can prepare your First Aid Readiness at the St John website.
Continue to follow your own emergency plan and when it's safe:
- Start your own recovery and clean-up
- Help others, including neighbours
- Make use of the supplies from your emergency kit
- Seek relocation support from friends and family if your house isn't safe to live in
Before entering your property, make sure it is safe to do so
- Watch out for hazardous materials which have spilt, clean them up following instructions from the emergency services
- Do not turn on any lights or power points until you are sure there is no electrical damage, turn the power off at the mains if you are unsure.
- If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise:
- open windows
- don't use any electrical appliances as they create a spark
- Call a qualified electrician or gas fitter to fix faults before turning the gas or power back on
If you cannot return home
The Department of Human Services
The SA Housing Authority Department can assist with accommodation in crisis situations.
The department brings together a range of services and policies designed to support vulnerable people and to help build resilient communities. More information can be found on these services can be found on the SA Gov website.
This department also offers a large number of services designed to assist you in recovering from an emergency situation including relocation and displacement advice, information on volunteering and support to replace documentation. Find out more about how they can help you by visiting their Disaster Recovery website Disaster Recovery website.
Other offerings provided include Youth Justice, Disability and Reform, and Community and Support services.
All contaminated waste should be disposed of in line with instructions given by the EPA or Emergency Services at the time of the incident. DO NOT DISPOSE OF CONTAMINATED WASTE IN YOUR COUNCIL BINS
Everything you need to know about managing your pets in an emergency can be found on the RSPCA website
As a result of the chemical spill your gas, electricity, water supply or telephone lines may have been damaged, destroyed or disconnected. It is the property owner’s responsibility to have the services inspected, repaired and reconnected.
After the emergency services have finished their work, the property will be handed back to you. You are then responsible for the security of the property.
Your property may be at risk to damage by weather or theft and vandalism. You may need to engage a provider of shutters and/or temporary fencing to secure your home. Your insurance company may be able to help with the cost of securing your property.
Be aware that any damage to your home that occurs after the emergency resulting from not securing your property may be refused by your insurance company.
If you have insurance it will be the most important aspect of recovering your property and possessions from a fire contact your insurer as early as possible. Ask your insurer for advice on actions you should take.
- Do not discard or throw away damaged items without first consulting your insurance company unless advised to do so by the Emergency Services
- Make a list of items that have been damaged and take photographs if possible
- Keep receipts for any emergency repair work
- Check with your insurance company to see if your policy covers emergency accommodation
If you can’t stay in your home
Before you leave the property it is recommended you take the following items:
- Identification – driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport
- Insurance contact details and policies
- Credit cards, cheque books
- Medicines and prescriptions (medication exposed to heat and smoke should be disposed of)
- Personal aids – mobility aids, glasses, hearing aids, etc
- Valuables – personal items such as jewellery, photographs, cash, laptops, etc
- Legal documentation
- Car keys and house keys
- Mobile phone and charger
Notify important contacts about your change of address such as employer, children’s schools, insurance company and neighbours and contact local police to inform them that your property has been involved in a fire and is vacant.
Where to stay?
If you can’t remain in your property, staying with family, friends or neighbours until more permanent arrangements can be made is the best option. Some insurance policies may also cover the cost of accommodation so check with your insurer.
The Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI)
The DCSI consists of Housing SA, Disability SA, Disability and Domiciliary Care Services and Youth Justice. The department brings together a range of services and policies designed to support vulnerable people and to help build resilient communities.
They offer connection to services available in emergencies such as the Homelessness Gateway Service and Anglicare. More information can be found on their website
Non-government organisations and Volunteers
Many NGO’s organise volunteers during the recovery stages of a disaster and Australians often turn to them for support or advice and the dedicated work of these agencies and organisations is critical to helping communities to cope with, and recover from, a disaster. Australian governments will continue to partner with these agencies and organisations to spread the disaster resilience message and to find practical ways to strengthen disaster resilience in the communities they serve.
If you would like to volunteer to help in any way after a large scale event please contact one of the following organisations:
Protecting your finances
There might be financial assistance available from governments and other agencies after an emergency; it’s usually small and targeted at immediate needs. It won’t be enough to replace your home or valuables. Thinking about how you can cover financial losses caused by an emergency will save you a lot of stress and burden.
If you have insurance cover for your property and possessions, contact your insurer as early as possible.
National Disaster Assistance
The Australian Government works alongside local communities to assist in times of crisis by providing financial assistance to individuals and the states and territories to provide support and help with disaster recovery costs.
- Australian Government disaster recovery assistance hotline call 180 2266
- Disaster Recovery Payment Can provide a one-off, non-means tested payment for eligible adults and children who have been adversely affected by a major disaster.
- Disaster Assist Provides information on assistance for current disasters.
- National Registration and Inquiry System - NRIS registers, finds and reunites family, friends and loved ones after an emergency. It is managed and operated by Australian Red Cross.
- People evacuated in an emergency (or people trying to locate family or friends) can phone the Red Cross Inquiry Centre on 1800 727 077 for callers in Australia or international callers on +61 393 283991.
Long Term Recovery
There may be instances where recovery from a disaster can take longer than anticipated. Be prepared!
While no one likes to talk about it, emergencies can cause loss of life. This can have emotional and practical impact to you and those around you. Ensuring you have life insurance and an up to date Will can help to ease the burden on those left behind.
There may also be things that affect you normal daily routine such as:
School and child care closures
Enforced work place closures
Injury or disability caused by the emergency event
The following contacts are always available (not just in an emergency) to help those in need:
- Kids Helpline Call: 1800 551 800
- Lifeline Call: 131 114
- Mental Health: Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS) Opening hours: 24 hours Call: 131 465
- Parent Helpline Call: 1300 364 100
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline Call: 1800 882 436
For further information on this topic, or if you have any questions, please call our helpful Customer Services team on 8522 9211 or email us at: council @gawler.sa.gov.au.