Ammonium nitrate risks - explosion at the Port of Beirut

Explosives safety alert no. 101 | 12 August 2020 | Version 1

At approximately 18:00 (15:00 GMT) on the 5th August, a fire started in a storage warehouse located at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon.  Shortly after, there was a large explosion centred on the warehouse.

The effects of the explosion have killed more than 200 people and injured more than 6000. The port, surrounding infrastructure, businesses and residential areas have sustained damage ranging from catastrophic to significant over a wide area. The blast was felt hundreds of kilometres away on the island of Cyprus.

The main source of the blast has been linked to an estimated 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored inappropriately in a warehouse for approximately seven years. There is evidence to suggest that maintenance work was the source of the initial fire which then potentially involved the storage of incompatible materials which witnesses describe as fireworks.

Manufacture & storage of security sensitive ammonium nitrate in Queensland

Ammonium nitrate is an essential component of explosives used in mining, quarrying, construction and other industrial purposes.  In Queensland, the mining industry is the major consumer of ammonium nitrate. Of the national annual consumption of approximately 2.5 million tonnes, Queensland consumes over one million tonnes, with the majority being manufactured locally.

Ammonium nitrate is classified as security sensitive ammonium nitrate (SSAN) in Queensland and has been subject to rigorous safety and security measures since the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to implement stringent controls in 2005. These controls have been made lawful requirements in Queensland and are regulated under the Explosives Act 1999 and Explosives Regulation 2017.

In general, the explosives industry in Queensland has maintained a sound record of compliance with regulatory obligations and this view is supported by the results of audits and inspections conducted by the Explosives Inspectorate and other agencies.  However, in light of the tragic events occurring in Beirut, there is significantly heightened community concern and interest in the safety and security of SSAN and potential risks presented.  Whilst the risk of an accident is considered extremely low due to current risk management frameworks, Queensland has experienced SSAN accidents including explosions, of which the community is aware.

Accordingly, the Explosives Inspectorate intends to conduct a review of the safety and security of the SSAN supply chain to ensure that risks have been properly assessed, are effectively managed and that the community can be assured of the required level of protection from risk.

Requirements

Authority holders manufacturing and/or storing SSAN are to review their current safety and security management systems to ensure diligent adherence to legislation, standards and codes of practice for handling the substance. The review should include, but not be limited to, the following aspects:

  1. the authority holder’s existing SSAN manufacturing/storage risk assessment,  considering any material changes in processes, procedures or other arrangements occurring over time to ensure currency;
  2. the Safety and Security Management System, particularly quality management processes for stock control, housekeeping and segregation, and management of waste or out of specification product;
  3. a review of compliance with Information Bulletin 53 - Storage requirements for security sensitive ammonium nitrate (SSAN) (IB53);
  4. the adequacy of storage quantity distances for each site and separation from protected works and vulnerable facilities, including a focus on storage conditions and any encroachment from external sources adjacent to the storage location;
  5. emergency response and management plans for each site;
  6. security plans, particularly the control of persons with unsupervised access to SSAN;
  7. the training and control of contractors and sub-contractors;
  8. maintenance of equipment and control of hot and cold work authorisations; and
  9. transport processes and procedures including the control and use of transit storage area
Authority holders are requested to complete their review by 18 September 2020 and submit a summary to explosives@rshq.qld.gov.au, specifically addressing the points raised above and providing a statement of compliance with the relevant Act, Regulation, Standards and Codes.



Authorised by Alex Mandl - Chief Inspector of Explosives
Contact: explosives@rshq.qld.gov.au

Issued by Resources Safety & Health Queensland


Safety: This information is a guide only and is issued to promote safety through experience. It is not to be taken as a statement of law and must not be construed to waive or modify any legal obligation.

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