Eliminating vs substituting chemical hazards from your workplace

Jan 25, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

When you identify a chemical hazard at your job site, you should aim (as much as possible) to eliminate the hazard completely. In many cases this is not possible as the chemical may be fundamental to the goods you produce, or the way you do business. This blog walks you through the Hierarchy of Control, focusing on the process to follow when eliminating or substituting a chemical hazard.

DEFINITION: ’Elimination’ means removing a hazard or hazardous work practice from the workplace. This is the most effective control measure and must always be considered before other control measures. - SAFE WORK AUSTRALIA

Understanding the Hierarchy of Control for chemical hazards

The Hierarchy of Control is an important method for deciding the best way to eliminate or minimise the risks surrounding hazardous chemicals in the workplace. The HOC sorts different types of hazard control measures into groups and then ranks them based on how effective they are. The control measures that are the most reliable and effective are given the highest ranking as follows:

  1. Elimination - Eliminate the need for a chemical or hazardous job task.

  2. Substitution - Find another less hazardous chemical or a safer way to do the job.

  3. Engineering - Install a mechanical device or machine that can isolate people from the chemical or make the job task safer.

  4. Administration - Implement safe work methods and operating procedures.

  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - Have workers and contractors wear and use PPE.

You should apply the HOC to every chemical hazard you identify at your workplace and only look at the measures ranked 3-5 if there is no possible way of eliminating the hazard or finding a safer alternative.

Eliminating chemical hazards

‘Elimination’ as a hazard control measure means completely removing a chemical hazard. It can be achieved in a number of ways including:

Hazard Proposed elimination Solution
Using a flammable adhesive to secure racking and shelves to the wall. Stop using the chemical. Use nails.
Constructing fibreglass surfboards and selling them. Eliminating a manufacturing procedure. Buying wholesale boards already constructed.
Mixing chemicals in the lab Outsourcing a job task. Buying pre-mixed chemicals.
Manufacturing plastic containers using chemical BPA (bisphenol-A). Changing a manufacturing procedure. Manufacturing only BPA free containers.

 

NOTE: These are examples are for demonstration purposes and not intended as practical solutions.

It’s important to remember that eliminating a hazard is not about finding a safer way of doing the same job, it’s about never doing that job again. And once you do eliminate a chemical hazard you should always conduct another risk assessment on the affected work areas and job tasks to ensure that the hazard has indeed been completely eliminated. And remember that sometimes eliminating a chemical hazard in one work area might create new hazards in others. Check the following update on our ‘elimination’ examples from above.

 

Hazard Solution New problems/Hazard still present
Using a flammable adhesive to secure racking and shelves to the wall. Use nails. Nailing into an asbestos filled wall.
Constructing fibreglass surfboards and selling them. Buying wholesale boards already constructed. Having to trim down boards and modify them for clients.
Mixing chemicals in the lab Buying pre-mixed chemicals. Buying insufficient quantities and discovering staff are still mixing chemicals themselves.
Manufacturing plastic containers using chemical BPA (bisphenol-A). Manufacturing only BPA free containers. Hazardous manufacturing process still exists, there is just one less chemical.

‘Substitution’ as a chemical control measure

Substitution is about transitioning your worksite to safer ways of doing business by regularly assessing and reviewing the chemicals you use, handle and store. And when you can’t eliminate a chemical hazard, your next best approach is to try and find something less harmful.

Here are a few examples:

  • Using a chemical that is less toxic, flammable, or corrosive (eg, changing from a flammable liquid to a combustible liquid)

  • Diluting chemicals so they are less concentrated (eg, using diluted cleaning products)

  • Using the same chemical but in a different form (eg, in paste form rather than a powder which produces dust)

  • Introducing chemicals that don’t have multiple hazard classes (eg, switching to water based paints )

Once you’ve found a better way to carry out a job task (or a chemical that is less toxic) you’ll need to conduct another risk assessment. New hazards are often introduced when a substitute chemical is less effective, so you should be looking into whether:

  • The substitute chemical is actually getting the job done

  • If working conditions have changed

  • Whether staff have been properly trained in the new job procedures or are refusing to use the  new chemicals

  • If there have been any other unforeseen effects

  • Proactive workplaces do more than comply with legislation, they are constantly reviewing work methods, analysing their supply chain, and seeking chemical alternatives that are not only safer, but more cost effective too.

Next Steps

Eliminating or substituting hazards are the control measures that should be given the highest priority. For a more detailed explanation of the Hierarchy of Controls and how to eliminate or minimise chemical hazards, download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We’ll give practical instructions for introducing a full risk management methodology to get your job site 100% chemical safety compliant. 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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