Hazardous Presence of Used & Empty Drums

Hazardous Presence of Used & Empty Drums

Used and empty drums in the workplace are a very common occurrence, however, many industrial environments fail to understand the significant threat they pose to health and safety. As a result, precautionary measures can sometimes be overlooked.

Even when a drum appears to be empty, hazardous chemicals can remain inside for many years. Grinding, welding or cutting the drum itself, on or near it poses a substantial threat to employee safety and causes a serious fire hazard. Drums once containing petrol, diesel and other types of fuel are considered to be dangerous. You also need to consider both flammable and non-flammable liquids like thinners, anti-freeze, cyanide, oxidisers and corrosive waste. Under ADR regulations, an empty drum is classified as if it were full – being empty doesn’t change the classification.

The Dangers of Contaminated IBCs

A number of accidents involving empty chemical drums have occurred in Ireland and throughout Europe causing fatal and near fatal injuries. Facilities not acting with due-diligence regarding empty drum disposal are exposing themselves to employee injuries, potential lawsuits and environmental repercussions.

Inside the drum, you have traces of a potentially hazardous material, evaporated and mixed with air at high pressure. This can be ignited by sparks from an angle grinder or plasma torch creating a high-pressure blast. Flames can cause potentially severe burns or the top and bottom sections of the drum can act as projectiles. Travelling at high speeds they can cause serious injuries to the person cutting the drum or people nearby.

Another serious issue can occur if you have a number of these drums in your facility, a small fire or accident can get very serious, very fast. Environmental issues may also arise if you are storing drums containing traces of hazardous materials, this can leak out and lead to contamination of soil and the surrounding area. Given the hazards, these situations should always be avoided. Further details are given below on how to store your drums safely.

Stay Safe in The Workplace – Check List

Ask Yourself:

  • Did this drum store flammable liquid or gas?
  • Did it store a chemical?
  • When you check the label, do you see a hazard diamond?

If you answered yes to any of the above, or you are unsure, it is imperative that you exercise caution and follow correct procedures for drum disposal.

Best Practice

  • Do not apply heat, weld or cut this drum with a metal object.
  • Warn all staff about the dangers of cutting drums that contained flammable liquids. Even if a drum has been empty a long time, it can still be dangerous.
  • Material safety data sheets (MSDS’s) should be available for all drums for review at all times.
  • Put a correct protocol in place for drums once they become empty, including storage, labelling, drum disposal, drum shredding and drum collection.
  • Be aware that rinsing with water is not an effective method of removing hazardous materials from containers.
  • Do not weld or grind on or near empty drums.
  • Ensure all drums are correctly labelled.
  • Use fully licenced drum disposal experts and follow the below storage advise for empty drums.


  • Plan ahead, keep only the drums you will need in the next year. Long term storage leads to rust and corrosion.
  • Don’t store on bare soil. Keep on a hard, flat surface and cover if possible.
  • Keep well away from fire hazards.
  • If they need to be stored outside ensure they are closed with bungs in place. Do not allow them to fill with rainfall or precipitation.
  • Do not store rusty or damaged drums, these need to be taken away immediately.
  • If drums contain hazardous resin or residue, again, do not store these drums for later use.
  • Ensure empty drums are labelled accurately, including the material that was contained inside and the date it was emptied.

Re-Using Drums

You cannot reuse a drum that contained hazardous materials. These drums need to be cleaned and decontaminated. If you are cleaning drums on site be careful what you do with the waste water. This cannot be poured down a drain or disposed of with regular waste. You need to store the waste safely and have it taken away by environmental experts.

To learn more about working safely with hazardous waste, you can read our hazardous waste packaging best practice guide here.

Always approach the storage of used and empty drums in the workplace with a safety-first mindset. Enva offer a fully licenced facility to clean or dispose of empty drums or IBCs depending on the condition. Our experienced operators will assess the contamination and provide a fully tailored handling solution. Drum disposal should not be an afterthought and needs to be carefully considered with an environmentally friendly plan put in place. Find out more about our contaminated packaging services.