HAZCHEM Safety: consulting your workers

Jul 8, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

When your organisation uses, handles, or stores hazardous chemicals you have a duty (and legal obligation) to consult with the workers who actually use the chemicals and carry out the work. These are the people directly affected by the WHS decisions and control measures you decide to introduce; and input by workers greatly assists in reducing work-related injuries and disease. This blog looks at the safety consultation process: how it works; who to consult; and the benefits for both workers and the business.

Why consult with staff on chemical safety matters?

Even though consulting with your staff on chemical safely matters is a legal requirement, everyone benefits from the process. When management, workers, and contractors communicate openly about safety hazards (and work together) a safe workplace is more easily achieved.

Some of the benefits of consulting with your staff include:

  • More informed decisions on chemical hazard controls because you are drawing on the knowledge and experience of the people actually working everyday with those hazards

  • A better understanding of how the activities of different workers may increase (or contribute to) chemical risks and hazards

  • Opportunities to create better and more open working relationships — where workers feel more confident to report unsafe work practices, chemical spills, and near misses.

  • Wider understanding of who is actually taking care of chemical safety matters. Sometimes duty holders assume that someone else is sorting out a problem when actually nothing is being done.

  • Greater awareness by workers of how chemical safety procedures are developed (and staff are more likely to follow them).

When should you consult workers about hazardous chemicals?

You should consult your staff when:

  • Identifying chemical hazards and assessing the risks which arise from the work carried out when using the chemicals. Eg, You need to  identify all the hazardous chemicals used in the workshop. Without staff to help, you might miss the aerosol spray cans they have been using to mark welding and cutting points.

  • Deciding on control measures to eliminate or minimise chemical hazards. Eg, You currently use a certain corrosive cleaning chemical and want to substitute it for something less harmful to workers. But your industrial cleaning staff might be upset if you introduce something (even though less toxic) that takes them twice as long to get their work assignments clean.

  • Proposing changes to the workplace that will affect the health and safety of workers Eg, You want to erect an outdoor store to hold flammable liquids in drums on pallets. You consult staff about your proposed location point and a forklift driver informs you there is no safe turn space in that location.

  • Monitoring the health of your workers. Eg, Your workers will start using chemicals that require active and compulsory health monitoring. After outlining the health monitoring requirements before they start work one worker cannot give blood because of their religion and asks to be transferred to another work area.

How should you consult in the workplace about HAZCHEM issues?

You should consult with workers at every step of the risk management process. This will include:

Identifying chemical hazards

  • Walking around work stations with staff members to identify all the hazardous chemicals.

  • Having staff demonstrate how they use chemicals and discuss their individual work practices.

Assessing chemical risks

  • Reviewing accidents and chemical incident reports with staff to gain a better understanding of why they happened.

  • Asking staff of their own concerns about chemical hazards in their work areas

Introducing control measures

  • Gaining input from staff about the practicalities of different control measures as you work through the hierarchy of control

  • Brainstorming with staff if any new hazards could emerge as a result of proposed control measures

Reviewing and sustaining compliance

  • Having the WHS committee undertake bi-monthly chemical safety audits and site inspections.

  • Conducting toolbox talks at the beginning of each shift, forwarding concerns to the WHS Committee for review,

REMEMBER: The term ‘workers’ does not just refer to your own staff. It can also include contractors and their employees, apprentices, trainees, volunteers, and even work experience students. Basically anyone carrying out duties on the worksite and likely to be affected by a chemical hazard.

WHS Committees and Representatives

Under WHS legislation, workers are entitled to take part in chemical safety consultation and be represented by a member of their own work group. Many organisations have a formal WHS Committee to fulfil this purpose because at least half of its members must be workers elected by their own work groups.

EXAMPLE: A proposed WHS committee at a flour mill would have essential members of the General Manager; Production Manager; Safety Manager; Warehouse Manager; Maintenance Manager; Silo Manager; Office Manager. But to balance out the committee you would also require 7 additional members elected from workgroups — they might be a Laboratory Technician, Shift Miller, Electrician, Forklift Driver, Logistics Officer, Grain Elevator Operator, and a Warehouse Packer.

A WHS committee meets regularly (at least once every three months) and exists to facilitate co-operation on safety matters between the person conducting the business or undertaking and workers. Its primary responsibility is to work together to develop safety standards, rules and procedures.

Next Steps

Now you know more about how to consult with workers and contractors on chemical safety issues, would you like to take this a step further and implement a tested risk management methodology into your worksite? Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to learn how correctly manage chemical hazards using risk management. Download 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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