Carrying out a risk assessment on the hazardous chemicals at your worksite is an important way of determining which chemical hazards are likely to cause real harm. Many people get bogged down just thinking about doing a risk assessment — how long will it take? Will there be mountains of paperwork?
But a risk assessment doesn’t need to be over complicated at all, it’s really just a formal way of reviewing the steps you are already taking to protect your employees — then decide if you have everything covered or need to implement additional safety measures. This blog outlines three different types of risk assessments you could use at your own job site right now to make sure all your chemical hazards are correctly identified and controlled.
The basic assessment is a systematic way of identifying each of the hazardous chemicals carried at the worksite then reviewing their labels and Safety Data Sheets. For each chemical you will compile a list of potential hazards and decide whether all the risks have already been controlled using the measures recommended in the Safety Data Sheets.
A basic assessment is only effective when the chemical hazards are clear and have known control measures. A basic assessment is not suitable at worksites that use or carry high risk chemicals (eg carcinogens, highly toxic).
Example 1: Your worksite uses methylated spirits, a flammable liquid. The label and SDS present a number of hazard statements including:
Harmful by inhalation and if swallowed.
Irritating to the eyes and skin.
Repeated exposure may cause skin dryness and cracking.
The SDS also gives specific safety instructions: keep container tightly closed; keep away from sources of ignition; do not breathe vapour; avoid contact with skin and eyes; wear suitable protective clothing/gloves and eye/face protection.
Your basic risk assessment would detail the recommended work processes, storage methods, training and PPE you have implemented at your workplace to minimise exposure to the methylated spirits. This might include:
Making work areas NO SMOKING and isolating them from sources of heat and ignition.
Training staff to keep containers tightly closed.
Issuing protective gloves, eye guards, and breathing apparatus.
Example 2: An all purpose paint thinner containing approximately 60% toluene is identified in your chemical risk assessment. The SDS lists the following hazard statements:
Highly flammable liquid and vapour.
Causes skin and serious eye irritation
Suspected of damaging the fertility of an unborn child
May cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure
Generic assessments are an effective way of applying a risk assessment to common job tasks, work groups, departments (and even job sites). To be effective (and compliant) they must involve the same chemicals and work processes. Examples of effective generic assessments include:
Franchise operations adopting a generic risk assessment because their operations are identical at each outlet.
Industry associations issuing a generic assessment for specific chemicals and work practices.
Workgroups adopting a generic assessment on their job tasks.
Generic assessments are only effective when the chemicals being used have identical properties and hazards, plus they are being used/stored/handled in exactly the same way. Generic assessments are not suitable for assessing high risk chemicals eg, carcinogens.
Example 1: Dry cleaning franchisees in the same city adopting a generic risk assessment. They use the same brand of chemicals, and have identical work practices that includes chemical use, handling and storage.
Example 2: Landscaping and gardening franchisees located in different states conducting their own risk assessments. Even though they have similar work methods, they don’t have access to the same brands of chemicals and often use different types of pesticides and weed killers due to the soil profiles and climate variations in the regional location of their clients.
REMEMBER: Hazardous chemicals can behave differently under different climates and working conditions. Even the age, genetic makeup, and overall health and fitness of the workers exposed to chemicals can impact the level of risk.
When a basic assessment identifies high risk chemicals that pose a significant risk to health and safety, the workplace will expand this into a detailed risk assessment. A detailed assessment would be required if your workplace uses:
Restricted and prohibited substances
Carcinogens and mutagens
Substances harmful to reproductive health
A detailed assessment will always be required whenever there is any uncertainty about the level of risk and how the chemicals may be affecting the health of your workers, property, or the environment.
Example 1: A basic assessment identifies a toxic chemical that has a Workplace Exposure Standard. You’ll immediately implement the control measures listed in the Safety Data Sheet but begin a more detailed assessment which analyses the health profile of the workers exposed to the chemicals, the amount of the chemical being used, the span of shifts and job tasks that involve the substance. You may decide to engage an occupational hygienist to measure the breathing zones of workers and calculate airborne concentration levels.
Example 2: Your basic assessment identifies a cleaning chemical that has clear exposure controls (which are being met) but the chemical can also create a toxic gas if it contacts a certain incompatible substance. You identify that the incompatible substance is also carried at the worksite and is accessible to the cleaners. You’ll begin a detailed assessment that analyses work tasks and chemical storage areas with a view to eliminating the incompatible substance (or the cleaner’s access to it).
Risk assessment is only one step in a risk management approach to chemical safety management. For a detailed guide to implementing a full risk management methodology that enables you to identify, assess and control every chemical hazard at your own job site; download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s written in clear, easy-to-understand text and includes our useful Risk Management Matrix Template absolutely free. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: