Chemical Exposure Standards: using the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS)

Dec 26, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Chemicals used in the workplace can present health hazards to your employees and contractors as well as visiting personnel. Health hazards are the chemical properties of hazardous substances that create adverse health effects (like being toxic, corrosive, or carcinogenic). People exposed to chemicals with health hazards can become sick, injured, or die.

This blog looks at the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) and how to use it to identify the health hazards (as well as the acceptable exposure levels) for the chemicals you use, store, or handle at your workplace.

IMPORTANT: Hazardous chemicals also have physiochemical hazards (like being flammable or explosive) which can cause immediate injury to workers, damage property, or cause environment harm. However, this article concentrates on finding information about health hazards to comply with chemical exposure standards.

What is the HCIS?

The Hazardous Chemical Information System or (HCIS) is a database of hazardous chemicals live on the website of Safe Work Australia. Check it out here

The database gives you 24/7 online access to information about chemicals that have an Australian Workplace Exposure Standard as well more than 4,500 other substances that are classified according to the GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals).

The database has been live since 2016 and is continually updated as new information about hazardous chemicals is released. You can access the following information from the HCIS (note these are all searchable fields):

  • CAS Number: The unique identifier of the chemical assigned by the Chemical Abstract Service in the USA.

  • Chemical Name: This can be a systematic name, the common name or a generic name.

  • GHS Hazard Category: All known hazards for the substance identified by the GHS (eg, Acute Toxicity, Oxidising Gas)

  • Labeling Information: Including the pictograms (eg, exploding bomb, flame), signal word (eg, WARNING, DANGER), hazard statements (eg, Harmful if inhaled, Unstable Explosive), and hazard statement code (ie, each hazard statement also has a unique code).

  • Cut-off Concentrations: Estimate the hazards of chemical mixtures and indicate how much of an ingredient would need to be diluted to lower the hazard category or be considered non-hazardous.

  • Additional Notes: Other information about the chemical that may help you identify and assess the risk of harm.

REMEMBER: The HCIS is published, updated and monitored by Safe Work Australia, but (like all information contained in online databases) may not always have all the most-up-to-date information. Safety Data Sheet (SDS) are always the definitive source for hazards.

How to research chemicals in the HCIS

The HCIS has two separate search tools, both with advanced options to narrow down your search results. Easily search for:

  1. Hazardous Chemicals (more than 4,500 chemicals); and

  2. Australian Exposure Standards (more than 700 chemicals)

Conduct a search using any of the fields listed in the previous section and the results quickly display on screen. Some search results (especially exposure standards) can be downloaded and saved as a PDF or Excel file.

IMPORTANT: Use the HCIS as a starting point in your risk identification processes, but always check the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) produced by the manufacturer/importer/supplier for the most up-to-date (and comprehensive) information about the hazardous chemicals you are researching.

Searching the Chemical Exposure Standards

One of the most useful functions of the HCIS is the ability to quickly access Australian Chemical Exposure Standards. You have a legal obligation (under the WHS Regulations) to ensure that your workers are not exposed to dangerous concentrations of chemicals, and these exposure standards set the acceptable airborne concentrations levels.

The HCIS database will give you the following information (which are also searchable fields):

  • Standard name

  • Substance name

  • CAS Number

  • Exposure Standard (TWA and STEL or Peak Limit)

  • Additional notes about routes of exposure (ie skin absorption) and the organisation who researched and documented the Standard.

Another useful function of the database is the ability to search for chemicals based on their last review date. Part of your risk management review process could be to search the online database once every 6 months to see if any of your chemicals have had alterations or additions to their  Standards.

IMPORTANT: Accessing online exposure standards is only part of the risk management function, you should also refer to the official publications Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants and Guidance on the Interpretation of Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants — both published by Safe Work Australia.

Next Steps

The Hazardous Chemical Information System or (HCIS) is a excellent resource when used in conjunction with a tested risk management methodology. Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to learn the steps involved in managing the chemical hazards at your workplace. Download and read it today to get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant.

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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