How to provide a safe working environment to your employees? How to maintain this safety and avoid any possible fire or explosion incidents? This can be summarized in five words; Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 –usually known as DSEAR.
DSEAR is a set of regulations concerned with protection against risks from fire, explosion and similar events arising from dangerous substances used or present in the workplace. The Regulations apply to employers and the self-employed.

What is a dangerous substance?
It includes any substance or preparation, which because of its properties or the way it is used could cause harm to people from fires and explosions. Dangerous substances include: petrol; liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); paints; varnishes; solvents; and dusts which when mixed with air could cause an explosive atmosphere, for example, dusts from milling and sanding operations. Dangerous substances can be found, in varying quantities, in most workplaces.

What is an explosive atmosphere?
An explosive atmosphere is an accumulation of gas, mist, dust or vapor, mixed with air, which has the potential to catch fire or explode. An explosive atmosphere does not always result in an explosion, but if it caught fire the flames would quickly travel through it and if this happened in a confined space (e.g. in plant or equipment) the rapid spread of the flames or rise in pressure could also cause an explosion.
The main requirements of DSEAR for employers and the self-employed necessitate that you must carry out a risk assessment of any work activities involving dangerous substances, provide measures to eliminate or reduce risks, Provide equipment and procedures to deal with accidents and emergencies, provide information and training to employees and classify places where explosive atmospheres may occur into zones and mark the zones where necessary

Vitality of risk assessment
The risk assessment is an identification and careful examination of the dangerous substances present or liable to be present in the workplace; the work activities involving them; and how they might fail and cause fire, explosion and similar events that could harm employees and the public. Its purpose is to enable you to decide what you need to do to eliminate or reduce the safety risks from dangerous substances as far as is reasonably practicable. It should take account of such matters as:

  • The hazardous properties of the substances
  • The way they are used or stored
  • The possibility of hazardous explosive atmospheres occurring
  • All potential ignition sources

You must carry out a risk assessment regardless of the quantity of dangerous substance present, as it will enable you to decide whether existing measures are sufficient or whether any additional controls or precautions are necessary. As well as assessing the normal activities within the workplace, you will also need to assess non-routine activities, such as maintenance work, where there is often a higher potential for fire and explosion incidents to occur.
The risk assessment must be carried out now, unless you have already carried out a detailed assessment under the Management Regulations, of the risks from fire, explosion and other events arising from dangerous substances, including addressing requirements specified by DSEAR. You must review the assessment regularly and further assessments should be carried out before starting any new work or before making modifications to existing plant or processes including using a different substance or formulation.

What safety measures does DSEAR require?
You are required to ensure that the safety risks from dangerous substances are eliminated or, where this is not reasonably practicable, to take measures to control risks and to reduce the harmful effects of any fire, explosion or similar event, so far as is reasonably practicable (mitigation).

Substitution
This is the best solution and involves replacing a dangerous substance with a substance or process that totally eliminates the risk. In practice this is difficult to achieve and it is more likely that it will be more practicable to replace the dangerous substance with one that is less hazardous (e.g. by replacing a low-flashpoint solvent with a high-flashpoint one). An alternative is to design the process so that it is less dangerous.

Control measures
You should apply control measures in the following order of priority, where this is appropriate to the nature of the activity or operation and supports the findings of the risk assessment:

  • Reduce the quantity of dangerous substances to a minimum
  • Avoid or minimize releases
  • Control releases at source
  • Prevent the formation of an explosive atmosphere
  • Collect, contain and remove any releases to a safe place (e.g. by ventilation)
  • Avoid ignition sources
  • Avoid adverse conditions (e.g. exceeding the limits of temperature or other control settings) that could lead to danger
  • Keep incompatible substances apart

Mitigation measures
You should apply mitigation measures, which are consistent with the risk assessment and appropriate to the nature of the activity or operation. These can include:

  • Preventing fires and explosions from spreading to other plant and equipment or to other parts of the workplace
  • Reducing the numbers of employees exposed to a minimum
  • In the case of process plant, providing plant and equipment that can safely contain or suppress an explosion, or vent it to a safe place. Measures taken to achieve the elimination or the reduction of risk should take into account the design, construction and maintenance of the workplace and work processes, including all relevant plant, equipment, control and protection systems.

What arrangements are required for dealing with accidents, incidents and emergencies?
The requirements of DSEAR build on existing requirements under the Management Regulations. You will need to supplement those existing arrangements if you assess that an accident, incident or emergency could arise, for example a fire, or a significant spillage, because of the quantity of dangerous substances at your workplace.
In these circumstances you are required to arrange:

  • Suitable warning (including visual and audible alarms) and communication systems
  • Escape facilities, if required by the risk assessment
  • Emergency procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency
  • Equipment and clothing for essential personnel dealing with the incident
  • Practice drills

The scale and nature of the emergency arrangements should be proportionate to the level of risk. You should make information on emergency procedures available to employees and contact the emergency services to advise them that the information is available (and provide the emergency services with any information they consider necessary).

What information, instruction and training are required for employees (and others at the workplace)?
You are required to provide your employees (and their representatives), and other people at the workplace who may be at risk, with suitable information, instruction and training on precautions and actions they need to take to safeguard themselves and others, including:

  • Name of the substances in use and risks they present
  • Access to any relevant safety data sheet
  • Details of legislation that applies to the hazardous properties of those substances
  • The significant findings of the risk assessment

Much of this is already required by existing health and safety legislation. You need only provide information, instruction and training to non-employees where it is required to ensure their safety. Where it is provided, it should be in proportion to the level and type of risk.

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