How to assess chemical hazards in the workplace

Aug 28, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Assessing the risks and dangers of the chemical hazards at your workplace is a critical step in safety management. Chemical hazards can cause fires, explosions, asphyxiation, burns and respiratory damage (as well as environmental pollution) and therefore you have to get it right. This blog introduces you to chemical risk assessment and focuses on how to prioritise the chemical hazards which need immediate attention at your workplace. We’ll explain how we do it here at STOREMASTA, share the details of the methodology we’ve developed and invite you to use it in your workplace.

TIP: Download our free eBook free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to understand the full risk management process. 

Document Chemical Hazards

Before you can begin a risk assessment you must identify and document all the chemicals present at your workplace. You’ll create a list which will become the basis for all your future risk management activities. It should contain the following information:

  • CHEMICAL: Type and/or product name of chemical.
  • STORAGE: Location, plus type of storage container.
  • USAGE: All places the chemical is used
  • DANGEROUS GOODS CLASSIFICATION: Y/N answer. Note: dangerous goods are those which can cause immediate hazards (like fire or poisoning).
  • FLAMMABILITY: Y/N answer. If yes, list its flash point.
  • HAZARD CLASS: Identify which of the nine hazard classes the chemical falls under (flammable, explosive etc)
  • HEALTH HAZARDS: Identify the ways people can be physically harmed (inhalation, ingestion etc)
  • DETAILS OF USE: A brief overview of how the chemical is used and why. You will also outline any safety measures you already have in place.

We realise this is an extensive list, but you’ll need all this information to consider all the possible chemical incidents or accidents that could occur at your workplace

TIP: Read our blog How to identify chemical hazards in the workplace which explains this process in more detail.

Consider Possible Chemical Accident and Incidents

Once you’ve documented the necessary information about the chemical hazards, you need to think about what type of incidents, accidents or emergencies they could cause. Here are a few examples …

Chemical Hazard Possible Incident
  • Carcinogenic dust emitted in workshop 3.
  • Exposed workers develop cancer.
  • Chemical containers containing flammable liquid stored on bench tops in the lab.
  • A chemical experiment using a flame ignites a container on the benchtop causing a fire. A staff member is severely burned.
  • Staff put down the container in a public area and forget it. Another staff member (without knowing what’s inside) spills corrosive chemicals onto their body.
  • New staff have not undergone fire and chemical emergency training.
  • Staff are killed when they run into a chemical explosion instead of away from it.


Calculate the risk level

Unless you have a very small organisation, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to implement control measures that address every chemical hazard immediately. In order to decide what must be done first you need to calculate the level of risk. This is done by looking at a combination of two factors:

  • What are the consequences of the event?
  • How likely is it to occur?

The consequences are the possible deaths and injuries as well as structural, property and environmental damage. Here at STOREMASTA we give the consequences of a chemical incident a score out of 5. So a small fire that could be contained onsite causing no structural damage would have a lower score than a chemical explosion that required emergency services and destroyed a building.

When considering the likelihood you need to investigate how often a chemical is handled, what safety procedures are currently in place, and what incidents have already occurred. Again, we rate the likelihood of an chemical incident out of 5. With incidents that could occur more than once a year given the highest score.

Each hazard is ultimately given a risk score out of 10, with the highest risks given the highest priority. That’s your risk assessment done.

REMEMBER: A risk assessment only examines the extent of risk to people, environment, property and equipment. You still need to implement control measures.

Use a Methodology for Chemical Risk Management

Risk assessment is just one of four essential steps for managing the chemical hazards at your workplace. In order to meet your WHS obligations in Australia you need to identify, assess and control every chemical hazard at your workplace. You must then periodically review the hazards and sustain your compliance.

For this reason we’ve developed an easy-to-follow methodology that can be used at any workplace containing hazardous chemicals. Our methodology guides you through each of the four steps and provides you with a set of practical tools and templates to get the job done.

  • STEP 1: IDENTIFY - Physically identify each and every chemical onsite, mark your sitemap and use the Safety Data Sheets to identify the health and physiochemical hazards.
  • STEP 2: ASSESS - Taking into consideration how the chemicals are handled and stored, identify all the possible accidents or chemical emergencies that could occur onsite. Give each of chemical incidents a risk score out of 5.
  • STEP 3: CONTROL - Using the Hierarchy of Control, implement control measures to ideally eliminate, or reduce the harm associated with each chemical hazard. Prioritise the chemical hazards with the highest risk score.
  • STEP 4: SUSTAIN - Periodically review your risk assessment and control measures (as the workplace changes and new chemicals are introduced) to sustain compliance and chemical safety  at your workplace.

REMEMBER: risk assessment is only one of four essential steps in complete risk management. 100% compliance with Australian WHS legislation cannot be guaranteed unless all four steps are undertaken.

Next Steps

We encourage you to use our methodology to control the chemical hazards at your workplace. This chemical management methodology is outlined in our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Why not download it now?

You will have instant access to:

  • The four essential steps to managing chemical hazards
  • Practical tools and templates including our Risk Score Calculator
  • A proven methodology for chemical risk assessment and hazard control

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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