RICHMOND, B.C. — Repurposing shipping containers is a growing trend, but WorkSafeBC is warning of potential pitfalls.
The organization has released a bulletin and video highlighting what it says are unseen risks to the public, including improper ventilation and possible previous exposure to toxic chemicals.
“Shipping containers are being repurposed all over B.C. The containers are designed to be watertight, which means they are well sealed with little or no ventilation — ideal for shipping purposes but potentially dangerous for other uses,” WorkSafeBC director of field prevention services Dan Strand said in a statement.
A WorkSafeBC release highlighted incidents where shipping containers presented a safety risk, including a 2011 incident where a volunteer firefighter was struck and killed by a door that blew off a shipping container that was storing gas-powered tools. The container exploded when the fuel vapour was exposed to extreme heat.
The release also cited another 2013 incident where a propane barbecue stored inside a shipping container exploded, blowing a 113-kilogram door 40 metres into a public park.
“Vapours or gases from common flammable or combustible substances, when combined with an ignition source in a shipping container with little or no ventilation, can produce a catastrophic incident. A leak of just one kilogram of propane, for example, can rupture a closed shipping container; the propane tank on an average home barbecue holds nine kilograms. A full tank can generate the same explosive force as 100 kilograms of TNT,” the release stated.
WorkSafeBC cautioned that employers must conduct a risk assessment and identify if flammable or combustible products are being stored in a container and if so to move them to a well-ventilated location. Workers should also be trained on the risks of storage containers and signs warning of hazards should be put in place.
If storing flammable and combustible items cannot be avoided, the container should be modified to provide proper ventilation.
The contents of the container should also be listed and the container should be inspected by workers wearing proper protective equipment such as respirators to ensure the floor has not been contaminated with toxic chemicals.
But if used safely, WorkSafeBC said, shipping containers can be repurposed for storage, office space, electrical rooms, welding and painting operations and living spaces.