Following a series of recent safety incidents retail fuel site operators are reminded to engage with staff on the importance of managing ignition sources in hazardous zones to ensure they are discharging their responsibility to protect staff, customers and the environment from the risk of fire.

A retail fuel site is a threshold mass hazard facility, storing and dispensing hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods.  With this comes a responsibility to ensure that the site has safety practices and operations that manage known risks.  There are many known risks, key among these is the presence of customers.  Retail fuel site customers are often uninformed, or not fully cognizant, of the risks they encounter, and the risks their behaviour poses, when on a retail fuel site.  Customer behaviour can drastically increase the risk of an incident.  Customers, knowingly or otherwise, can often circumvent existing safety protocols and thus greatly increase the chance that something will go wrong.  This risk of customers is a known risk and must be actively managed.

Customers smoking at the pumps, not grounding portable containers during filling and jamming nozzles open, are behaviours that are seen on retail fuel sites every day.  Most of these behaviours do not result in an incident every time, though many do result in fires, spills injuries and damage.

Less common customer behaviours, such as operating the pumps near running machinery or active pilot lights are also risky situations.  Recently an incident was seen onsite, where a customer was filling a vehicle that had a running refrigerator, which resulted in a fire.  While rarer these incidents do happen.  Caravans and trade vehicles often have pilot lights or running machinery that greatly increases the risk of an incident when they are brought onto the forecourt.  Managing these behaviours onsite falls to the staff.

Retail fuel site staff must be vigilant in observing and responding to customer behaviour in the hazardous zones.  Staff must be aware of what customers are doing and be ready to respond by shutting down the pumps if customers are exhibiting behaviours that increase the risk of incident.

This vigilance is often a difficult balance to strike, particularly when the forecourt and store is busy.  However, there are major consequences for failure to actively attend to the customer behaviour on the forecourt and to rapidly respond when customers are exhibiting risky behaviours.

Operators are reminded to engage with staff to ensure that they understand where the hazardous zones that exist on the forecourt including; around the pumps, dip and fill points, vents and tanks.  Staff should understand where the hazardous zones are and what behaviours should not be allowed in those zones.  Importantly staff should be explicitly empowered to respond when customers present risky behaviours in these zones.  While it may be a small imposition for other customers on the forecourt, staff should not hesitate to shut down the pumps when there is risky behaviour going on.  It is incumbent on operators to ensure that staff know where to look, what to look for and what to do when they observe a risky behaviour.

Balancing the efficient and congenial service of customers on the forecourt and shop with the need to ensure the safe operation of the site is a delicate dance, but one that the business must manage.  Failure to balance these elements can result in incident, injury and damage, not just to people, but to the business.