How to control chemical hazards in the workplace
Jun 14, 2018

How to control chemical hazards in the workplace

Walter Ingles Walter Ingles

Hazardous chemicals present a number of risks upon the people in the workplace. To help mitigate these risks, the hazards associated with dangerous substances must be controlled in a professional manner.

Controlling the risk associated with hazardous chemicals is one part of the four phases of the methodology that is used to manage the risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

STOREMASTA methodology for managing risk

The risk of hazardous chemicals can be managed by following the STOREMASTA methodology. This methodology has four phases. These four phases are; Identify - Assess - Control - Sustain.

STOREMASTA methodology - Identify - Assess - Control - Sustain

The way that this methodology can be used to manage hazardous chemicals in the workplace is that you must first identify and assess their potential risks. This must be done before any controls are implemented to mitigate the risks associated with hazardous chemicals.

Identifying risk is a process that involves identifying situations involving hazardous chemicals that could potentially harm people.

Once the potential risks associated with hazardous chemicals have been identified, the risk must be assessed. Assessing risk allows you to evaluate what would happen if someone was exposed to hazardous chemicals. A risk assessment will allow you to calculate the magnitude of the risk by determining the severity and likelihood of an incident occurring.

Once you have identified and assessed the severity of the risks, you will have valuable data that will allow you to determine the best methods that should be used to control the risk.

Once the controls have been implemented, you must review their effectiveness and set up a proactive system to sustain their effectiveness. This proactive system normally consists of a number of periodically scheduled risks assessments.

We will now go into more detail on how to control the risk associated with hazardous chemicals. Controlling the risks associated with hazardous chemicals must be done by following the hierarchy of controls.

How to control the risk of hazardous chemicals

As outlined above, managing the risks associated with hazardous chemicals has four distinct phases. The third phase of this process is to implement controls to reduce the risks associated with hazardous chemicals. When you are considering what controls to use to reduce the risk associated with hazardous chemicals, you must follow the hierarchy of controls.

The hierarchy of controls is a system that outlines the chronological order in which you should implement controls to reduce chemical hazards. The hierarchy of controls ranks the effectiveness of the different methods of controlling risk from those that provide the highest level of protection and reliability, to those that provide the least amount of reliability and protection. This hierarchy of controls is outlined below:

Hierarchy of controls for chemical hazards

Elimination

The risk control measure that has the greatest level of effectiveness is elimination. Before any other control measures are considered, elimination must be applied first. Elimination is the method of totally removing a hazard or hazardous practice from the workplace. Some examples of eliminating the use of a hazardous chemical in the workplace include:

  • Eliminating the use of chemical adhesive by using fasteners such as screws or nails.
  • Eliminating the use of flammable forklift gas by using electric power forklifts instead of LPG powered forklifts.

Substitution

If you can’t totally eliminate the use of a hazardous chemical you must then try to substitute it. Substitution is when you replace the use of a hazardous chemical with another chemical that is less hazardous and presents a lower level of risk.

Sometimes substitution can be hard to achieve because the dangerous properties of hazardous chemicals are often what makes them very effective in manufacturing and chemical processes. For example, when spray painting cars, it is very important that the thinner used to thin the paint evaporates very easily. However, the more easily a paint thinner evaporates the more volatile it will be. The more volatile a substance is, the lower its flashpoint and the more easily it will ignite in the presence of an ignition source.

Isolation

If it’s not possible to substitute the use of a hazardous chemical with another chemical that is less hazardous, you must then isolate the hazardous chemical from people and other incompatible substances. This can be done in a number of ways. For example; if one part of a manufacturing process involves the use of a hazardous chemical, you could build a ventilated enclosure over this part of the manufacturing process. This enclosure would stop the airborne contaminants from this area moving into other areas of the manufacturing facility where people are present. The airborne contaminants that are generated inside this enclosure should be vented to the outside atmosphere in a safe location where people don’t congregate.

If large quantities of hazardous chemicals are stored in the workplace, you could isolate these hazardous chemicals from people by storing them outdoors in a compliant chemical storage container. Isolating hazardous chemicals from people by storing them outdoors reduces the risk of harm to people in the event of a workplace fire or chemical spill.

Hazardous substances must also be isolated from other incompatible substances. If incompatible substances mix, it can result in violent chemical reactions that can harm people and property. Incompatible hazardous substances can be isolated by storing them in separate chemical storage cabinets and dangerous goods storage containers.

Engineering Controls

If isolation cannot be achieved, you can implement a number of engineering controls to reduce the risk associated with hazardous chemicals. Engineering controls are physical in nature and are devices or processes that eliminate exposure to hazardous chemicals. Engineering controls can be used to:

  • Minimise the generation of hazardous chemicals
  • Suppress or contain chemicals
  • Limit the area of contamination in the event of spills

Engineering controls can include devices such as mechanical ventilation systems, compliant chemical storage containers or the automation of processes involving the use of hazardous chemicals.

Administrative Controls

If a risk still remains after implementing higher order controls, they must be reduced by implementing administrative controls. Administrative controls are not as effective because they don’t control the hazard at its source. Administrative controls rely on human behaviour and supervision.  

Administrative controls are written policies and procedures that outline the best work practices to minimise exposure to hazardous chemicals. These policies can include things such as:

  • Reducing the number of people exposed to hazardous chemicals
  • Reducing the duration and frequency of exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Reducing the quantity of hazardous chemicals kept on site through inventory reduction methods such as just in time supply.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should not be relied on to control risk. PPE should only be used as a last resort when other more effective control measures have been used and the risk has not been totally eliminated. PPE can also be used as interim protection until higher level controls are fully implemented. PPE is also a useful way to supplement higher level controls when carrying out high-risk work such as spray-painting and abrasive blasting. Some examples of PPE can include; chemical resistant glasses, face shields, chemical resistant gloves and respiratory equipment.

Next Steps

Chemical hazards pose many risks upon people in the workplace. To minimise the negative effects of these hazards, it is very important that you implement the most effective controls first. The most effective controls in the hierarchy is elimination. If elimination cannot be achieved, the next most effective controls must be used which include; substitution, isolation and engineering controls. The lower order controls such as administrative controls and PPE should not be used as a primary method to control risk but to supplement higher order controls. If you would like more information on how to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals, download our FREE eBook by clicking on the image below. 

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping business reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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