When your worksite uses Hazardous Chemicals you must always try to find safer alternatives wherever possible.
But if a less harmful substance isn’t available (or just won’t do the job) you’ll need to introduce ‘control measures’ to ensure the safety of your workplace. A chemical control measure is simply an action you take to minimise any risks associated with the chemical — like restraining a cylinder of acetylene with a chain to stop it from falling over.
Many chemical control measures are identified in Safety Data Sheets, Australian Safety Standards, Codes of Practice, and other guidance documents issued by Safe Work Australia. Some of these ‘known control measures’ are required by law. This blog will help you identify if the hazardous chemicals at your worksite have specific control measures for safe usage, handling, and storage.
Restrictions on chemical usage
One of the first things to check is whether the chemicals you intend to use (or are already carrying) have any restrictions on their usage. In Australia some chemicals are considered so dangerous they’re usage is completely prohibited, while other highly toxic or carcinogenic chemicals have restrictions on they way they can be used. For example: there are restrictions on using lead and its compounds for spray painting and abrasive blasting.
The Model WHS Regulations list all the chemicals that are either prohibited or have restricted usage. You can find them in the following tables:
Table 10.1 Prohibited carcinogens
Table 10.2 Restricted carcinogens
Table 10.3 Restricted hazardous chemicals
You should also check Section 1 of a chemical’s Safety Data Sheets for usage and restriction guidelines recommended by the manufacturer. For example: chlorine gas in nitrogen is recommended for use in an industrial laboratory as a calibration gas, the SDS recommends a risk assessment is carried out before introducing it to the workplace. The chemical is not for consumer use.
REMEMBER: Chemicals vary according to the manufacturer, and even a different batch of the same chemical can introduce new hazards. Always check the actual SDS when determining usage restrictions as a generic SDS may not fully identify usage hazards.
Chemical labels and placards
All hazardous chemicals have specific requirements for the way they are labeled and stored. Warning labels and signs on chemical containers and storage areas alert workers and other personnel that a hazard is present. Chemical labelling is a mandatory control measure under WHS Regulations, this includes having proper labels on the original receptacle, bulk tanks, portable containers, and chemical stores.
The Australian Dangerous Goods Code (ADG Code) as well as some Australian Safety Standards have additional requirements for chemical signage and placarding. For example: AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders requires the following additional signs near gas bottle cages and cylinder stores:
Warning sign about smoking and ignition sources. Eg, DANGER: NO SMOKING, NO IGNITION SOURCES.
Restricted entry warning. Eg, RESTRICTED AREA, AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Always refer to the Code of Practice: Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals which explains how to administer the labelling requirements of the Regulations into the workplace.
Handling and PPE controls
Handling and PPE controls for hazardous substances can be found in the Safety Data Sheets. For highly flammable liquids like toluene you might find hazard statements like P240: Ground/bond container and receiving equipment and P242: Use only non-sparking tools in Section 2: Hazards Identification of the SDS. Then in Section 8: Exposure Controls and PPE you might find a PPE control like Prevent skin contact by wearing impervious gloves, clothes and, preferably, apron. Section 7: Handling and Storage will also have advice on general occupational hygiene and handling methods.
In addition to Safety Data Sheets, many Australian Safety Standards have specific handling and PPE controls. Here are a few examples:
AS 3780-2008 - The storage and handling of corrosive substances requires that PPE must be stored separate from normal clothing and cleaned until the rinse water is neutral. Gloves and boots must be checked for leaks, and periodic inspections should be made on all PPE. Handlers must wash their hands before eating, drinking, smoking or using the toilet, and after work.
According to AS NZS 4452-1997 - The storage and handling of toxic substances these substances must never come in contact with the skin. PPE should be checked for suitability to specific substances eg: considering PVC or rubber boots when using arsenic and checking penetration times, rates of diffusion and degradation before making the selection. Written procedures must be developed and maintained for any work tasks involving toxic chemicals, and workers must be suitably trained and supervised.
When decanting minor quantities of flammable liquids you must reduce the hazards of splashing, spillage, and vapour escape — use dispensing pumps or self-closing metal taps. Leaks and spills must be cleaned up immediately and waste disposed of safely. AS1940:2017 - The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids has additional requirements for fire protection.
AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders specifies that workers must use mechanical lifting devices or trolleys when manoeuvring gas cylinders. They must never be rolled along the ground or dropped over the side of a truck.
IMPORTANT: The requirements above (and below) are examples only and limited in scope. They don’t represent the full requirements of these Standards.
Chemical storage controls
Safety Data Sheets may specify storage controls for your chemicals. Look in Section 2 for hazard statements that relate to storage eg, P402+P404: Store in a dry place. Store in a closed container. Section 7: Handling and Storage will also specify conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities.
It’s essential to also check relevant Australian Safety Standards for specific storage requirements, we’ve listed some examples below to give you an idea of what to look for:
Flammable liquids - all cabinet doors shall be self-closing, close-fitting and held shut automatically by catches at two or more points.
Corrosive substances - walls, floor, doors and roof of a cabinet shall either be constructed of corrosion-resistant materials or be protected by a corrosion-resistant lining or coating.
Toxic substances - not more than one cabinet shall be installed in each 100 m2 of building area, and the separation distance between any two cabinets shall be at least 3 m.
Compressed gases in cylinders - bollards, crash barriers or other suitable protective devices shall be installed where there is a risk of cylinders being damaged by vehicular impact.
IMPORTANT: Ask your chemical supplier, manufacturer, and industry-based WHS consultant who specialises in Dangerous Goods if the substances you carry have an applicable Australian Safety Standard.
Now you know how to identify if your hazardous chemicals have specific control measures to eliminate or minimise the risks to your worksite, we recommend you download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Read it today and learn how to incorporate those control measures into your risk management plan.