Eliminating chemical hazards

Mar 7, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

You have a duty to provide a safe workplace to your workers as well as keep surrounding properties and the environment safe from harm.

When the job site carries a range of hazardous chemicals and Dangerous Goods, the hazards created by the chemicals can be complex — difficult to fully understand and control. This blog discusses ‘elimination’ as a risk control measure and highlights the importance of workplace monitoring to ensure the measures you introduce are actually working.

Identifying risk when using hazardous chemicals

By their very nature, all hazardous chemicals present some degree of a danger to human health and safety. Your job as an employer is to assess the potential dangers and do whatever you can to either eliminate the chemical hazard, or reduce the risk to such a degree that your employees and contractors can work with the chemicals safely.

And you can’t eliminate or control any hazard if you don’t know it exists, so you’ll need to carry out a thorough workplace inspection everywhere chemicals are used or stored. Check the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for a list of hazards but also use your eyes, ears, and nose as risk indicators. A weird smell, smoke, or dust on machinery might indicate a hazardous substance generated during a work process.

Many chemical hazards are created by the way a substance is used or stored, so each chemical may have more than one hazard — especially if the substance is:

  • Flammable - can the chemical burn or sustain a fire?

  • Toxic - is the chemical poisonous if inhaled, absorbed, ingested, or swallowed?

  • Corrosive - could the chemical erode or destroy living tissue, packaging materials and safety cabinets.

  • Unstable - can the chemical explode or react dangerously with other substances?

  • Environmentally reactive - could the chemical harm the environment and aquatic life?

If the chemical does have multiple hazards, you may need to introduce several control measures to sufficiently minimise the harm. This is why eliminating the chemical is always the best approach (where possible).

 

What are ‘elimination’ controls?

Elimination controls’ focus on completely removing a hazard from the workplace — here’s a simple example. Let’s imagine you use sulphuric acid in the lab, there are a number of controls you could introduce to make the workplace safer. Like having staff wear chemical resistant gloves and goggles, storing the acid in a dedicated acid cabinet made from high density polyethylene and developing work procedures that ensure empty containers are never reused.

While all of the above control measures will reduce the harm, the hazard still exists — so an elimination control will always be better because it would look for ways to stop using the chemical completely. And it’s not simply a matter of no longer using sulphuric acid, because if the work process still exists and you merely change to a different chemical, there is still a chemical hazard. Here’s a couple of ways you could approach this hazard (remembering this is a generic example to demonstrate the process):

 

Work requirement Hazard Elimination controls
Chemical XX is used for essential testing the lab. Chemical XX is made in the lab by mixing Substance A and Substance B together. Both substances are volatile and lab staff need to wear fully contained PPE during the mixing. Chemical exposure hazard when mixing the chemical by hand.

1. Buy premixed Chemical XX to eliminate the need to mix the chemical.

2. Send the substances to be tested to an offsite testing facility. Chemical XX and it’s compounds can now be totally removed from the worksite.

 

 The problem with elimination controls

Even though elimination controls are the most effective way to address chemical hazards, they need to be carefully monitored because sometimes a control measure you introduce merely substitutes (or transfers) the hazard to another area.

If you consider our elimination example #1 that we introduced in the last section, this workplace would need to carefully monitor the new work procedure. Has the hazard really been eliminated? Sure laboratory staff are no longer mixing the chemicals BUT a dangerous chemical is still being handled at some point in the lab. It’s a moot point.

All hazard control measures (particularly elimination controls) require regular monitoring and review. This can be in the form of safety audits and workplace inspections, but you also want to flag the area if exposure and spillage incidents are occurring or begin to increase. Sometimes when you tell staff that a hazard no longer exists and the area is now safe, they become less attentive to a work process and increasingly complacent. This change in attitude can actually create new hazards.

Finally, the most effective way of eliminating any hazard is actually by conducting a risk assessment during the design and planning stage of a project or development. Because according to the Risk Management Code of Practice released by Safe Work Australia “in these early phases, there is greater scope to design out hazards or incorporate risk control measures that are compatible with the original design and functional requirements.” Basically eliminating the hazard before it even reaches the workplace is always the most desirable method.

REMEMBER: Using a different (less harmful) chemical for the same work process is a ‘substitution’ control. The hazard still exists even though the harm has been reduced.

 

Next steps

Now you have a better idea about how elimination controls work, why not download our free free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We detail the full Hierarchy of Controls and explain how to decide on the best control measures to minimise the harm caused by the hazardous chemicals stored at your own workplace. 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 Adviser. He loves helping businesses reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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