Thank you for your excellent question.
Without knowing the full details of your facilities, we infer from your question that your science chemicals are currently being stored within what is also the science preparation area.
The simple answer is yes. Under the regulations, the ventilation of chemical store rooms and of laboratory areas is treated separately. However, both areas require very good ventilation in order to minimise exposure to harmful chemicals by people who use the facilities. These requirements are set out in various Australian and Australian/New Zealand Standards listed in the references.
- The chemical storage room requires ventilation to conform to AS 1940.
- The science preparation area requires ventilation to ensure that chemical exposure is below allowable limits. This means that good extractive ventilation is required. (AS/NZS 2243.2)
- The ventilation of both areas should be subject to a risk assessment as to its effectiveness, and appropriate control measures implemented if necessary. (AS/NZS 2243.1, 2.7)
Science ASSIST recommends that best practice is followed. This is for chemicals to be stored in a dedicated store room that has the required ventilation, and which is separate from the preparation room. A dedicated chemical storeroom has additional benefits such as assisting in the security of the chemicals. It is preferable that this is incorporated at the design stage of a building, as it is much more difficult to achieve later. If the chemical store room and science preparation area currently share the same space, Science ASSIST recommends that you undertake a risk assessment and plan for the separation of these two areas as soon as practicable.
Requirements for a Chemical Store Room
School chemical store rooms that store flammable or combustible chemicals (as is usual in a secondary science facility) need to be equipped with ventilation as set out in the Australian Standard AS 1940-2004, Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Substances. These requirements are more fully set out in the response to an earlier query regarding the type of extractor fan required in a chemical store. Please see: Chemical Storage
They include the following provisions for a ventilation system.
- It must be able to run continuously. Domestic fans do not meet this criterion.
- It must be of spark-proof design to meet the requirements of AS 1940. Domestic fans do not meet this criterion.
- It must extract air at least at the rate of 0.3 m3 per minute per square metre of floor space in the room, or 5 m3 per minute, whichever is greater.
If your current chemical storeroom ventilation system does not comply, then it should be upgraded to meet the standard as a priority.
Requirements for a Chemical Preparation Room
School chemical preparation rooms are subject to the ventilation requirements for laboratories. These require in part: “Procedures shall be implemented to ensure … laboratory personnel are not exposed to concentrations of hazardous substances greater than the lowest achievable level and in any case greater than the maximum allowable standard.” [i](AS/ NZS 2243.2- 2006: Section 3.1 (a)).
As school science preparation areas use several hundreds of chemicals, all with their own allowable exposure levels, and as schools will have no capacity to measure the levels that are present, the effective solution is to provide excellent extractive ventilation to minimise exposure to persons present.
Risk Assessment of ventilation in both Chemical Store Rooms and Preparation Areas
ASSIST recommends that the ventilation of both preparation and storage areas is subject to a risk assessment process as to its effectiveness. Signs that the ventilation may be inadequate could include (but are not limited to) the following.
- Allergic reactions: Persons present exhibit allergic (“hay fever”) type responses to the environment.
- Odours: There are detectable chemical odours upon entering the work space. This could include a build-up of volatiles within storage units such as those used for flammables and corrosives. This is often obvious when the door of a storage cabinet is opened, and it indicates inadequate ventilation or poor housekeeping. However, it could also apply to the sensation noted upon entering the room. Be aware here that the initial smell response is most important as, due to “smell fatigue”, these initial responses often rapidly fade and may not be detectable after even a short time, even though the chemical is still present. It is important to note that not all vapours are detected by the human nose, so just because an air contaminant cannot be detected by smelling, does not mean that there is no hazard.
- Condensation: Condensation build up on the outside of storage bottles, and on the walls of storage units (usually corrosives or flammables units).
- Labels: Degradation of chemical labels due to condensation and corrosion.
- Corrosion: Corrosion of fittings in storage units (usually, rusting adjacent to the storage of corrosive substances). This is usually most observable on metal door knobs.
Should a risk assessment indicate inadequate ventilation, then appropriate control measures would need to be implemented to improve it to the required standard.
Combined Chemical Store and Science Preparation Rooms
As noted above, we are assuming that your workplace has a chemical storage room that also serves as the science preparation area. Whilst this configuration is by no means unknown in Australian schools, it is very common, and accepted good practice, for these two areas to be adjacent but separated. The various standards strongly discourage, but do not prohibit, the combination of chemical storage with preparation areas.
Science ASSIST recommends that, if your situation is that of a combined chemical store and preparation room, you undertake a risk assessment and plan the separation of these two areas as soon as practicable.
Reasons for their separation would include the following.
- Ignition sources: The need for chemical store rooms storing flammable and combustible materials to be free from ignition sources, which would include power points, electrical switches, burners, and standard (not spark proof) overhead lighting. The operation of a school science preparation area commonly includes these sources. Combining the two safely is difficult.
- Security: The need for chemicals to be stored securely and with access only by authorised staff. A dedicated lockable chemical store room provides this security. A more open and accessible preparation room may not. In this context, we also note the increasing risk to schools posed by illegal chemical use for both illicit drug and terrorist applications.
- Chemical exposure: The need to separate persons (typically school science technicians, as they spend the most time in this environment) from chronic low-level chemical exposure. Whilst science teaching areas are identified as potentially hazardous, the workplace health and safety data indicates that, by far, the most serious workplace injury claims are not caused by single events such as explosions, but by sensitisation to chemicals caused through long-term chronic chemical exposure. The separation of chemical storage from preparation areas, and the provision of adequate ventilation to both, largely eliminates this problem.
- Ventilation: Possible competing extractive ventilation systems. Whilst the chemical store room requires significant extractive ventilation as set out above, a science preparation room will commonly have a fume cupboard with a strong extractive ventilation system of its own. These two units are clearly not compatible within the same room as they would be drawing air from the same space, and working in opposition. It could mean that either the chemical store room ventilation is preventing the effective operation of the fume cupboard, or that the fume cupboard is preventing the effective operation of the chemical store room ventilation, or both.
Science ASSIST. 2014. Chemical storage Science ASSIST website. http://assist.asta.edu.au/question/2666/chemical-storage
Standards Australia. 2004. AS 1940 Storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Sydney, Australia.
Standards Australia. 2004. AS/NZS 2243 Safety in Laboratories, Part 10: 2004 Storage of chemicals. Sydney, Australia.
Standards Australia. 2005. AS/NZS 2243 Safety in Laboratories, Part 1: 2005 Planning and Operational aspects. Sydney, Australia.
Standards Australia. 2006. AS/NZS 2243 Safety in Laboratories, Part 2: 2006 Chemical aspects. Sydney, Australia.
Standards Australia. 2010. AS/NZS 2982.2010 Laboratory design and construction. Sydney, Australia.
[i] This extract from AS/NZ2243.2:2006 Safety in laboratories Chemical aspects is reproduced with permission from SAI Global Ltd under Licence 1407-c117