5 Essentials to include in your chemical safety training program

Dec 22, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

Chemical safety training is mandatory under Australian WHS Regulations; you must provide ‘any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from their work’ [Safe Work Australia]. This blog outlines 5 essential items to include in your safety training program to ensure that your workers understand the impacts chemicals can have on their health and wellbeing, and know exactly how to handle and use them safely.

1. Chemical hazard awareness

Your chemical safety training program should begin by helping workers and contractors understand the chemical properties of the materials and substances they work with. Apart from the actual dangers of chemical exposure, your training should detail individual responsibilities according to WHS legislation. By the end of the session staff should know: 

  • All physical and health hazards of the chemicals and how they could impact their own health and safety.

  • How to read Safety Data Sheet (SDSs), chemical labels, placards to easily locate information about hazards, PPE, storage and handling, first aid treatment, and emergency responses.

  • Which materials and substances are incompatible with the chemicals being used and what type of dangerous reactions could occur.

  • Specific handling and storage measures required by legislation and Australian Safety Standards.

2. Safety control measures including PPE

Chemical safety training should detail the control measures implemented at the workplace to eliminate or minimise the impact of chemical hazards. This type of training should be carried out in workgroups and involve one-on-one instruction as workers demonstrate their competency in different job tasks.

EXAMPLE: A recent safety audit reveals a pile of Class 8 corrosive containers stacked high on a bunded pallet. The containers are not secured and could easily fall, while the pallet bund is overloaded and would be unable to contain a spill. There is no spill kit in the area.

After consulting workers and subsequent risk assessment, you discover there is no alternative storage area for the corrosives, and the spill kit was used after a container broke 3 weeks earlier (and never replaced). You purchase a dedicated corrosive store and replace the spill kit. You also create a work procedure for chemical orders to be placed directly into the new Class 8 chemical store, as well as a formal procedure for chemical spills (ie, replacing spill kits).

Your training session now focuses on the control measures you have introduced. More specifically you would cover: consequences of the container stacks falling down and the bunding not being able to contain a spill; specific procedures for receiving stocks from suppliers (put away in chemical store); and the maximum quantities to be held in work areas on the pallets.  

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Workers also need an in-depth understanding of the individual pieces of safety equipment they will need to wear or use. The training should cover:

  • Selecting the correct PPE for the job (eg, using thermal protection gloves vs cotton gloves when changing LPG cylinders).

  • The importance of proper fitting PPE (eg, chemical goggles that are too loose could allow corrosive liquids to splash into their eyes — never loan or borrow PPE).

  • How to use PPE properly (eg, layering a fully enclosed chemical suit including under/over boots, inner/outer gloves, suit, face covers).

  • How to clean their own PPE (eg, laundering protective clothing after a chemical spill).

  • When to replace PPE (eg, with repeated immersion in chemicals, gloves will eventually deteriorate).

  • Where to store PPE and the importance of keeping it secure (eg, keeping PPE in a dedicated cabinet to protect it from dust, theft, moisture, vermin).

  • Limitations of PPE (eg, goggles don’t project the face from chemical spills).

  • What to do when PPE is lost, damaged, or borrowed (eg, never commence a work task without PPE, report damages to supervisors).

3. Housekeeping, hygiene and chemical storage

Get creative to deliver a training session about putting away chemical containers and not leaving them uncapped on work benches — so it sounds important and desirable instead of like a nag session. It’s simple stuff, so you could use real examples to inspire your staff to get it right. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Recapping containers (eg, use an example of vapours from an uncapped flammable liquids container igniting 50 metres from the container and causing 2nd degree burns to a worker)

  • Restraining gas cylinders (eg, maintenance worker who died from impact injuries after their co-worker left a gas cylinder standing unrestrained in the store)

  • Labeling portable containers (eg, workers who have died after drinking a chemical from a plastic cup thinking it was water)

  • Not using a compatible spill response kit (eg, a worker who died after trying to clean up 30 gallons of sodium hydroxide with some nearby towels)

4. Responding to a chemical emergency

Training staff to respond to a chemical emergency is essential and must be divided into three different areas:

  1. Personal emergency - this type of training focuses on a chemical incident, accident, or emergency that directly involves the worker eg, corrosive chemicals spill onto their clothes and penetrates their boots and gloves. Workers need instructions on how to use first aid equipment, safety showers, and eyewash stations to treat themselves — plus how to notify supervisors, management and emergency services.

  2. Co—worker emergency -  responding to an accident or chemical emergency where another worker has been injured. It could be in their own work area, or somewhere else on the job site. Apart from using emergency equipment (showers/eye-wash etc) to render first aid to a co-worker or contractor, the training will focus on notifying and working with emergency responders.

  3. Site emergency - the worker’s role in a chemical emergency that affects a large area or the whole site. This type of training involves emergency response, fire protection, and evacuation drills. Workers may need to use emergency PPE (breathing apparatus) and responsibilities to shut down operating plant and machinery. All of this should be included in the training.

5. Chemical spill response

Finally, your staff should know what to do if chemicals are spilled or accidentally released. The session should cover:

  • Exposure hazards and immediate threats to the health of workers, visiting personnel, workplace property, and the environment.

  • PPE to use while in the spill area.

  • Isolating and containing the spill area (including signage).

  • Notifying supervisors and management.

  • Safely cleaning up the spill.

  • Disposing of waste chemicals and damaged containers.

REMEMBER: Chemical spills can happen on every shift, so include in your training the importance of replacing spill kits, PPE, and protective clothing ready for another chemical spill or emergency.

Next Steps

Chemical safety training is an essential administrative control is part of a compliant risk management plan. We recommend downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace for more detailed instructions about controlling chemical hazards. You’ll be introduced to a full risk management methodology and have access to a set of free WHS tools and templates (which you can start using at your own workplace right away). Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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