How to conduct coldstore risk assessments

London, UK: Coldstores pose very specific risks. Simon Bliss, managing director of Principal People, a recruitment consultancy specialising in health, safety and environment, provides five top tips for any safety assessment.

Cold storage facilities operate at temperatures of below freezing and sometimes even as low as -30°C. Various hazards are often encountered in this environment, including:
• People being accidentally locked in
• Refrigerants getting accidentally released
• Injuries due to the cold that need specialist medical attention
• An accident-prone workplace and ice build-up
• Equipment failure

In the UK, working in such cold environments requires a risk assessment under the Management of Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1999.

1 Standards and precautions

First of all, your cold storage facility should adhere to the standards set by the regulators. In the UK, cold stores should comply with the 1989 safety requirements in relation to the design, construction and installation of refrigerating appliances and systems.

For companies that use cold storage, it is absolutely essential that they employ the services of a health and safety officer. These experts are responsible for conducting risk assessments in the workplace.

To prevent being accidentally locked in a cold store, consider the following:
• Limit entry to only authorised and fully trained workers
• Post signage such as ‘No unauthorised entry’
• Have at least one emergency exit, which should be clearly signposted with no obstructions
• Install a trapped-person alarm, backed up by batteries, strategically located and marked
• Install battery-operated emergency lighting
• Maintain and test all equipment and devices
• Ensure that working practices also include a thorough check before locking the storage unit

2 Accidental refrigerant release

There are three main types of refrigerant. Firstly, there are halocarbons. Whilst they have low toxicity, in case of fire, they can displace oxygen and cause suffocation.

The second type is ammonia, which is both toxic and flammable. The final group includes any of the following:
• Butane
• Ethane
• Ethylene
• Propane
• Propylene

Each of these gasses is highly flammable with a high risk of explosion.

To prevent any such disasters from occurring, consider these general precautions:

• Allow only trained and competent personnel to properly maintain and operate the cold storage
• For large facilities, think about setting up a policy whereby only qualified staff will conduct periodic examinations of storage devices, pressure vessels, pipelines, and any parts that may show any defects that can pose a danger to personnel
• Devise emergency procedures and communications for all affected workers

3 Cold temperatures

Workers should have suitable thermal or protective clothing. They should also have access to warm rooms and hot drinks. Normally, their breaks will depend on factors such as the working temperature and their exposure time. Furthermore, forklift truck cabs should be heated and enclosed.

4 Health risks

Pre-employment examinations and checks should be conducted periodically. This will ensure that all employees are physically capable of working in the cold storage unit. In addition, any ice build-up should be removed on a daily basis if possible.

5 Equipment failure

• When equipment is used in low temperatures, it is always in danger of breaking down. So, in order to avoid any delays, the risk assessment should identify and recommend appropriate precautions.
• For example, in the UK, cold storage workers use pallets or pallet converters according to the guidelines set out by the Refrigerated Food Industry Confederation (RFIC).

Create a checklist for cold storage facilities
• You could use the previously mentioned conditions as a reference point for your checklist. You could set it up in the form of questions that readers can answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example:
• Have you applied all the necessary precautions to avoid or limit the risks?
• Did the medical check-up clear the workers for cold storage duties?
• Were the staff adequately instructed or trained with regard to working in a cold environment?

Conclusion

Working in a cold storage environment presents some unique and risky conditions. That is why carrying out a risk assessment is essential.

However, companies will need qualified staff to conduct this type of work. Therefore, it is worth considering hiring a health and safety officer to set up the assessment checklist and continuously monitor the work area.

About the author
Simon Bliss is managing director of https://www.principalpeople.co.uk/ , a recruitment consultancy specialising in health, safety and environment.

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