Trying to identify and assess how hazardous chemicals could impact the health of your workers can initially seem daunting, so we’ve put together a three-step method to get you started. This blog will help you prepare a chemical hazard profile to determine the potential exposure of your workers to hazardous substances. Use it as the base of a chemical risk assessment and a tool for flagging individual work groups (or work areas) for chemical exposure testing and control measures.
REMEMBER: Chemicals can be used safely if the correct steps are taken and appropriate control measures introduced.
Step 1: Identify the chemical and characteristics
The first step involves identifying the chemicals present at your worksite and the characteristics which make them harmful. Physically walk around and take inventory of the chemicals used or stored onsite — as well as any emissions that could create air-borne contaminants (eg, dust, fumes, mist, smoke).
You’ll need to consider the:
Hazard class and health effects — from the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) note the hazard class and any known health effects. Knowing that a chemical is corrosive and can cause permanent damage to skin and eyes (as well as being carcinogenic) is an immediate indicator that your workers could be at high risk.
Routes of entry — The way the chemical enters the body and is absorbed by the blood and body tissue can increase the severity of a hazard. Knowing that a carcinogenic chemical can be both inhaled and absorbed by the skin could be a flag to prioritise this chemical hazard for assessment and control.
Toxicity of the chemical — The toxicity indicates if the chemical can cause harm to living things and the environment. Eg, a chemical that is a Schedule 7 Dangerous Poison has greater potential to cause harm than a Schedule 5 Poison.
Concentration — when chemicals are present in high concentrations it can indicate a greater potential hazard. Eg, a Schedule 6 Poison heavily diluted in water may present a lower risk to workers than a Schedule 5 Poison used at 100% concentration.
Quantities — What overall quantities of chemical are kept on the job site? Without even examining work methods, larger quantities of chemicals often indicate a greater potential for danger eg, a worksite that keeps 20 IBCs of corrosives vs a worksite that keeps 1 x 205 litre drum.
What the chemical is used for — Considering how the chemical is used on the site is an early indicator of high-risk exposure. Eg, a bulk store of pesticides for crop spraying could create a major inhalation hazard, but the same chemical intended for a small bed of roses in the front garden may not be cause for immediate alarm.
Step 2: Examine the work methods
After you’ve compiled a list of chemicals, health hazards, and properties you can expand that list into a more detailed chemical hazard profile. Consider now the way the chemicals are used in individual job tasks, and in what quantities.
Your hazard profile should include:
How the chemical is used — consider how the chemical is actually used in individual work processes. Eg, pesticides on food crops sprayed by an aeroplane, or from an open-cabin tractor, or by workers individually walking through the field.
How long are people exposed for — the greater the duration of exposure usually indicates a higher risk. Your assessment should consider for example: a short exposure time over a long time period (pesticide spraying for 30 minutes every day for 10 years) vs a longer exposure time but in small blocks (pesticide spraying for 8 hours, once).
Other substances — are there any other chemicals or Dangerous Goods present that could increase the level of harm? Apart from incompatible substances that can create dangerous gases or cause chemical reactions, being exposed to airborne concentrations of two chemicals at the same time could increase the absorption rate or change the way it affects the body.
Control measures already in place
Your hazard profile should recognise any existing control measures in place. The ensuing risk assessment will assess the adequacies of things like PPE, exhaust fans, chemical stores and decanting stations already in place.
REMEMBER: This hazard profile forms the basis of your risk assessment — enabling you to fully evaluate each hazard, decide on suitable control measures, and flag high-risk operations that may impact individual workers.
Step 3: Profile your workers
The last step identifies everyone using the chemicals (or likely to be exposed). Your hazard profile will now include:
Who uses the chemical — Identify work groups, departments, and individual workers actually using the chemicals. Is the chemical only approved for small work groups, or is everyone on the manufacturing floor exposed?
Individual health factors of workers — Chemicals can affect the body differently based on overall health and previous exposure. For high-risk workers you may need to create a profile of the worker’s age, weight, allergies, smoker/non-smoker, and if they have had previous exposure to hazardous chemicals eg, pesticides, paints, welding fume.
Who else could be exposed to the chemicals — Now consider other workers who could be exposed even though they are not directly using or handling the chemicals. Eg, administration staff or managers who enter production areas to deliver messages and files; contractors carrying out repairs or installing machinery.
IMPORTANT: Your chemical exposure profiles should also consider how site visitors like customers, sales reps, industry consultants, government inspectors or other site visitors could be impacted or exposed to hazardous chemicals.
Now you have created a chemical hazard profile and have an understanding of the risks presented to the health of your workers (plus other site personnel and visitors), download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. You’ll learn how to incorporate your chemical hazard profile into a full risk management plan and get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: