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This fact sheet provides information on the legislation covering cyanide in Western Australia as well as safe handling, storage, disposal, health effects, first aid and safety issues relating to fires involving cyanide.
If cyanide is used at your workplace there should be agreed procedures to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury and disease. Employers should consult with employees and safety and health representatives to develop the appropriate procedures and training necessary to protect employees and provide for a safe and healthy workplace as required in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act).
Cyanide is a rapidly acting, poisonous chemical that can exist as a solid, solution (liquid) or gas. All forms of cyanide are poisonous.
Cyanide salts are used in metallurgy, mainly gold extraction, electroplating and metal cleaning. In manufacturing cyanide is used to make paper, textiles and plastics.
Cyanide is a fast acting poison in the human body. It affects our ability to use the oxygen we breathe. Severe breathing difficulties develop very rapidly when cyanide is swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Highly poisonous cyanide gas can be produced when cyanide solids or liquids are mixed with moisture in air, or with steam, acid, acid fumes or if air is bubbled through a cyanide solution. Cyanide gas has an odour of bitter almonds. Many people are unable to detect its odour and therefore have no warning of its presence. Those who can detect the odour of cyanide gas can detect it above a concentration of around 0.6ppm.
Cyanide gas is highly flammable and reacts violently in some situations (eg a large amount of cyanide gas mixed with air may suddenly explode). There is an extremely high risk of explosion if cyanides are exposed to heat or flames. Safety procedures are aimed at preventing the substance from entering the human body and avoiding situations where cyanide solids or liquids might react to produce the highly poisonous and flammable cyanide gas.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 places certain duties on employers, employees, self-employed people, manufacturers, importers and suppliers with the objective of preventing occupational injuries and diseases. The broad duties established by the OSH Act are supported further through the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996, which provide specific requirements related to specific hazards, such as hazardous substances. This applies to the handling of cyanide at WA workplaces.
The use, handling and storage of cyanide in Western Australia is governed by the Poisons Act 1964 administered by the Department of Health. Cyanide is a substance specified in the Seventh Schedule to the Act. A licence or permit is required for the purchase, sale and use of cyanide from the Department of Health, telephone (08) 9222 6883.
Information on cyanide disposal can be obtained from the Department of Environment Regulation, telephone (08) 6467 5000.
Bulk storage and transport is regulated by the Resources Safety Division under the Dangerous Goods legislation.
Cyanide in Western Australia is mostly used in the mining industry. Queries in relation to mine sites should be directed to Resources Safety, telephone (08) 9358 8001.
Other workplaces may contact WorkSafe via email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 1300 307 877.
Very small quantities of cyanide, even as little as the size of an aspirin tablet when ingested or inhaled could be lethal. It does not matter whether you are part of a large operation using tonnes of cyanide or just using a few grams in a small workshop.
If you work in a place where cyanide is used or stored:
Avoid poisoning by preventing cyanide from entering the body. Entry to the body can be from:
Effects may occur within seconds to minutes following inhalation and could be delayed several hours following skin absorption.
To avoid breathing in cyanide gas or dust:
The respirator required will vary depending upon the concentration of dust or gas in the air. Respiratory protective equipment should be selected, used and maintained in accordance with AS/NZS 1715 Selection, Use and Maintenance of Respiratory Protective Devices, and should comply with AS/NZS 1716 Respiratory Protective Devices.
To avoid the accidental swallowing of cyanide:
To prevent cyanide from being absorbed through the skin:
Employees that handle, store, use or manufacture cyanides should be provided with training on being able to recognise the symptoms of cyanide poisoning and have access to qualified first aiders who are able to deal with cyanide poisoning emergencies.
Cyanide poisoning can be classed as short term (acute) or long term (chronic) and the symptoms and health effects are independent of the route of exposure.
Symptoms can include headache, anxiety, dizziness, nausea and vomiting (particularly if the cyanide has been ingested), shortness of breath and a sense of suffocation, weakness with heaviness of arms and legs, falling blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia and in cases of moderate to severe poisoning, cardiac arrest, unconsciousness and death.
Long term repeated exposure may cause headaches, shortness of breath, nose bleeds and sores in the nose, fatigue and eye irritation.
For further information on safe handling, health monitoring, first aid and medical treatment refer to the Safe Work Australia Guide for Preventing and Responding to Cyanide Poisoning in the Workplace.
Remember - do not eat, drink or smoke in a cyanide store and make sure that food, drinks, cigarettes, respiratory equipment, clothing and protective equipment are not kept in any of the areas where cyanide is used or stored.
Thoroughly rinse empty containers with large amounts of water. The rinse should be used in the cyanide process. Puncture or crush empty containers and dispose of them at approved waste disposal sites. For further information on disposal contact the Department of Environment Regulation.
Cyanide salts or solutions are not combustible, but may generate highly toxic, flammable, corrosive and explosive hydrogen cyanide gas if in contact with water, carbon dioxide fire extinguishers, or some foam fire extinguishers if these contain acidic agents. If a fire occurs in the vicinity of cyanide:
Remember - cyanides can react with water or acids to produce the highly poisonous and flammable cyanide gas which presents a very high risk of explosion.