HAZCHEM Alert: 3 hazardous substances easily overlooked in risk assessments

Dec 26, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

It’s easy to determine if chemicals or substances are hazardous when they arrive at your workplace already bearing labels, GHS pictograms, and a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). You know immediately to include them in your risk assessment. This blog isn’t about those types of chemicals. It’s about recognising other substances (that don’t sit on the shelf of your chemical store) and could be easily excluded from your chemical risk management plan. We take a look at three of the most common (and dangerous) forms of dangerous substances that are often overlooked in work-site risk assessments.

REMEMBER: When managing the risks of hazardous chemicals at your workplace you need to ensure that all hazardous substances (including the ones generated by work activities and chemical reactions) are identified, assessed, and controlled.

1. Welding fumes

Workers exposed to welding smoke and fume can quickly suffer from dizziness and nausea as well as eye, nose and throat irritations. And prolonged exposure is even more serious — lung and kidney damage, ulcers, different types of cancer are all possible.

The severity of chemical hazards created by welding fume will depend on the:

  • Type of welding process (eg, electric arc, gas, thermit).

  • Base metal being welding and the filler materials used.

  • Chemical properties of the welding rod.

  • Work practices and technique of the welder.

  • Air movement and ventilation controls.

Minimising the chemical risks when welding is usually carried out through a combination of:

  • Elimination controls (outsourcing welding work).

  • Substitution controls (finding welding consumables that are less toxic or generate less fume).

  • Engineering controls (using local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems to clear welding fume and gases from the worker’s breathing zone).

  • Administrative controls (ensuring staff are thoroughly trained to clean welding surfaces properly which removes potential toxins, and know how to position themselves to avoid breathing welding smoke).

  • Personal protective equipment (fitting and providing workers with suitable respiratory protection).

FACT: Welders are susceptible to lung infections which can develop into severe pneumonia, and is often fatal.

2. Wood dust

Wood dust has been associated with a wide range of ailments from dermatitis, to respiratory illnesses, even cancer. When workers contact or inhale irritant compounds found in the sap, they can become sensitised to the wood dust which then produces skin and eye irritations, allergies, nasal dryness and prolonged colds.

Wood dusts are often present in the daily work environment of workplaces that undertake:

  • Carpentry and joinery

  • Timber milling

  • Furniture making

  • Prefabricated wood building and component making

  • Paper and pulp milling

  • Reconstituting wood into products

In Australia there is a workplace exposure standard for both hardwood dusts (eg, oak, beech) and softwood dusts (eg western red cedar) as some of these wood dusts are known to cause nasal cancer. In the workplace engineering controls like exhaust hoods with an air-cleaning devices can be effective in reducing wood dust. These controls are more effective when implemented in conjunction with suitable PPE (well-fitted masks) and safe work methods (eg, never sweeping or using compressed air to clear wood dusts).

FACT: Carpenters and joiners in the UK are 4 times more likely to have asthma than UK workers in other industries.

Apart from their acute and chronic health hazards, certain wood dusts are also capable of igniting and exploding. In fact any enclosed work area where combustible wood dust is present (even areas partially enclosed by walls or equipment) has a dust explosion risk. The most common places where wood dust explosions occur are dust collectors and other areas where waste materials accumulate.

Dust explosions are serious stuff and a fireball from just a handful of dust could completely engulf one of your workers. The severity of an explosion depends on the type wood, concentration of the dust, particle size, moisture content, size of the ignition source, and the surrounding area (is it fully enclosed).

3. Diesel exhaust

Diesel exhaust can irritate the nose and eyes, but repeated and prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory illnesses (asthma) and cancer. There are many industries where workers are placed at risk by diesel exhaust but exposure usually occurs in the following three ways:

  • Workers are operating, repairing or working with diesel powered vehicles: forklifts, buses, trucks, heavy machinery, farm vehicles, trains, diesel generators, winch motors.

  • An enclosed work environment accumulates diesel exhaust: warehouses; garages; fire stations; mines; hire car, taxi, and bus depots; vehicular ferries; underground car-parks; tunnels.

  • An open environment is exposed to high levels of exhaust: traffic controllers; police, toll operators; airport ground crews; farm workers; truck and vehicle loaders; fuel station operators.

Diesel emissions and air quality can be difficult to control but there are a range of control measures that can be effective including:

  • Elimination controls (replacing diesel powered engines with electric vehicles, replacing toll booth operators with electronic swipe cards).

  • Substitution controls (using low-emission vehicles and alternate fuels).

  • Engineering controls (running vehicles outdoors rather than indoors; installing exhaust extraction devices and other ventilation systems).

  • Administration controls (keeping vehicles maintained, turning off a vehicle instead of letting it idle).

  • Personal protective equipment (having staff wear respirators and face masks).

IMPORTANT: You may need to carry out personal monitoring to determine inhalation exposure and assess the level of risk to the safety of your workers. This would involve collecting air quality samples from the breathing zones of workers.

Next steps

Need to conduct a full risk assessment on the chemical hazards at your workplace and not sure how? Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace and learn how an risk management methodology can simplify your risk assessment efforts and ensure that nothing is missed. Download it now 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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