HAZCHEM Alert: do you need to carry out a risk assessment?

The risk assessment process is an effective way to determine whether your chemical safety precautions are adequate or if you need to implement extra controls to keep your workers safe. While risk assessments aren't compulsory under Australian Safety Legislation, we feel that a risk assessment is essential in almost every workplace that has hazardous chemicals exceeding minor storage quantities. 

IMPORTANT: You must identify each and every chemical hazard onsite to determine if the hazard requires a full risk assessment. Read some of our earlier blogs on hazard identification and how to use the STOREMASTA Risk Management Methodology.

What is a chemical risk assessment?

A chemical risk assessment is an examination of the different chemicals at your workplace and assessing how they could harm your workers, damage your property or effect the environment. The risk assessment process takes your long list of chemical hazards and turns it into meaningful data by assessing :

  • Who could be harmed by the chemicals

  • How they could be harmed

  • The severity of any accidents, incidents, or illnesses

  • The likelihood of these dangerous events, illnesses, or injuries actually happening

Risk assessments do not have to be over complicated and focus on determining the severity of the hazard and how urgently action needs to be taken. Because many people confuse a hazard identification audit with a full risk assessment, let’s look at the following hypothetical example to help explain the difference.

Chemical Hazard List

Chemical hazards identified during a safety audit which included a site inspection, a review of Safety Data Sheets, incident reports, and sick leave records.

Chemical Hazard Dangerous Events Outcome Likelihood
Worker siphoning fuel by sucking diesel through a hose.

Worker swallowing diesel fuel.

Large diesel spill or accumulated spillage as the practice continues.

Death or serious damage to the lungs and digestive tract from ingesting diesel fuel.

Dizziness, drowsiness headaches, coma, loss of muscle control, heart and lung problems from breathing diesel fumes

Fire or explosion at the spill site could cause deaths, injuries and damage buildings or industrial plant.


Storeroom at the back of the maintenance workshop has a jumbled mix of paint tins, thinners, containers of Roundup and other pesticides, adhesives, nails, tools, mower fuel, spare batteries etc. Some of lids are not always put on properly and the storeroom has no natural  ventilation.

Fire or explosion in the storeroom.

Storeroom becoming an oxygen deficient atmosphere.

Death or serious injury to worker. Destruction of storeroom areas and workshop.

Asphyxiation of a worker or contractor.


Diesel exhaust in the warehouse due trucks reversing in for loading, as well as forklifts shifting pallets.

Workers exposed to diesel exhaust.

Workers suffering acute conditions like dizziness, headaches, irritation to the eyes/nose/throat.

Workers developing chronic illnesses like respiratory disease and/or cancer.


The above is merely a list of chemical hazards and is not a full risk assessment. The assessment process is what determines the likelihood of the hazard causing a dangerous event, injury, or disease and researches the full impact on the overall safety of the workplace. To do this you’ll need to carefully analyse how other factors in the workplace might contribute to each dangerous situation. These include:

  • The hazard class and toxicity of chemical being used/handled/stored/generated.

  • How workers or other site personnel are exposed to the chemical hazard: including the length of exposure time (duration); how much of the chemical is being used (dose); and how strong it is (dilution).

  • Other Dangerous Goods or incompatible substances present on the job site.

  • Work processes that generate heat, sparks or ignition sources.

  • The experience of the workers using the chemicals and their level of training (new workers are particularly  vulnerable to workplace accidents).

  • The suitability and documented effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Housekeeping practices and workplace hygiene practices in both work areas and chemical stores.

Your risk assessment will also take into consideration equipment failures (eg, how would this affect your mechanical ventilation system), power outages, and accidental chemical spills that could damage emergency equipment or chemical stores. Even extreme weather patterns like floods and cyclones may need to be considered.

When should a risk assessment be conducted?

A risk assessment must be carried out if there is any uncertainty about how a chemical hazard could cause injuries, death, illness, or property damage at the worksite. You’ll definitely need to conduct a risk assessment if the chemical has an airborne exposure standard (details will be in the Safety Data Sheet).

In the example above (warehouse employees being exposed to diesel exhaust) a risk assessment would probably require engaging a occupational hygienist or other WHS professional to carry out scientific testing and measurements on the breathing zones of workers in the warehouse.

Our other example, (the chemical hazard created by the worker siphoning fuel) should also trigger a risk assessment — even though it might seem the hazard could be quickly eliminated by counselling and retraining the employee, moving them to a different job area, or terminating their employment. A full risk assessment of the hazard would investigate why the worker was siphoning fuel in the first place might highlight a completely different hazard. Perhaps there was:

  • A damaged or unusable transfer station

  • No fuel nozzles or hose to fit the equipment being used

  • No supervisor available to provide access to decanting station

  • Too many workers trying to use the decanting equipment at the same time

Risk assessments often uncover additional hazards not immediately obvious or identified during a safety audit or site inspection.

IMPORTANT: A risk assessment must be carried out if any of your hazardous chemicals will be used, stored, or handled in a confined space.

When is a risk assessment NOT required?

A chemical risk management is not compulsory under Australian WHS Regulations if the chemical hazards at your workplace are common and and have well established control measures. Some examples where you may be able to simply implement control measures include:

  • A chemical hazard that must be controlled according to legislation.

  • A government issued Code of Practice for a specific chemical hazard that applies to your workplace operations.

  • A best practice guide available within your industry for controlling the chemical hazard and it suits the circumstances of your operations.

Remember though, you still need to conduct the hazard identification process because sometimes control measures introduce new hazards. Unless your workplace only houses a small number of chemicals we recommend carrying out a risk assessment at least once, even if it is only to review the effectiveness of your existing control measures.

IMPORTANT: Documenting risk assessments is also not compulsory but we recommend it as a best practice to ensure your workplace continues to sustain chemical safety compliance especially as new chemicals are introduced or changes are made to the job site.

Next Steps

Do you need to carry out a chemical risk assessment at your workplace? If you do (or if you still aren’t sure) we recommend downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We detail the risk assessment process and explain how to assess each chemical hazard you encounter at work and decide on suitable control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk. 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 Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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