HAZCHEM safety for Managers and Supervisors

Jul 8, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

Like all workers, managers and supervisors have WHS Duties (under the WHS Act) to keep themselves safe at work; follow the instructions and policies of their employer; and not act in a way that places others at risk of death, injury, or illness. This blog looks at how managers and supervisors contribute to the overall work health and safety at job sites that use or store hazardous substances.

ESSENTIAL: Managers and Supervisor must “take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.” Section 28 Model WHS Act

Keeping workers safe

Managers and supervisors have a duty of care to ensure that the workers they supervise are not injured or harmed at work — these duties begin by understanding the health risks and hazard class of all the hazardous chemicals their staff will use (or encounter) while on shift.

It is essential that the risks presented by the hazardous chemical are then assessed, and all necessary actions are taken to minimise or prevent workers being exposed to the chemical. This must be done before work starts. Managers and supervisors must especially ensure that staff and contractors are competent to work with chemicals and can undertake their job role safely.

To achieve this managers and supervisors need to make sure workers and contractors:

  • Receive a chemical safety induction and regular refresher training

  • Have been informed of the chemical hazards associated with the job tasks they will perform (prior to starting the work)

  • Receive specialised training before commencing work with chemicals. Especially if they are going to be working with:

    • Toxic and corrosive chemicals

    • Compressed gases

    • Fuel/chemical transfer and decanting stations

    • Flammable substances

    • Carcinogenic substances eg, asbestos

  • Have a licence or permit before operating machinery; electrical systems; forklifts; machine tools; or working at height and in confined spaces.

  • Know the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements of the job tasks they will perform and how the PPE will protect them from chemical exposure. Chemical-proof PPE like safety glasses, chemical resistant gloves, respirators, safety boots, protective coveralls.

  • Are trained in emergency procedures and know how to respond to a chemical incident

  • Can quickly locate emergency showers, eye-wash stations, and chemical spill kits (plus know how to use them)

  • Know how to report workplace accidents; incidents and near-misses; unsafe work practices;  and unhealthy working conditions

IMPORTANT: Managers and supervisors should keep detailed records of safety training and instructions that are provided to staff. These records would include lesson plans, training dates, rosters/attendance lists, teaching aids.

Providing Safety Leadership

Providing safety leadership is more than training staff about their WHS responsibilities — managers and supervisors must also enforce safe work practices and correct unsafe conditions. This is done by monitoring employee behaviour and providing enough supervision to ensure that chemical work is performed safely and within required guidelines.

When workers are not carrying out their WHS duties correctly or engaging in unsafe behaviour, this must be corrected swiftly. And by swiftly we don’t mean hastily. Take the time to find out why  a worker isn’t following safety instructions, there could be a number of reasons. In many cases a worker may not be necessarily lazy or slack.

Let’s consider this hypothetical example: A new worker, been on the job two weeks, decants corrosive chemicals into portable containers without wearing any PPE. He’s received a chemical safety induction as well as specialised training instructing him to wear chemical resistant gloves and eye guards. So what’s the problem? It could be any one (or a combination) of the following:

  • He doesn’t fully understand the toxicity of the chemical and the consequences of not wearing the PPE

  • He’s lost or damaged his PPE and afraid to report it

  • He’s seen other workers not using PPE and supervisors allowing it to continue

  • His PPE doesn’t fit properly and he doesn’t like wearing it

  • The PPE cabinet was locked and he was in a hurry

  • He wants to be liked or appear ‘cool’ among his co-workers

Getting to the heart of the reason for non-compliance is central to motivating staff to following safe working practices. At the same time managers and supervisors need to lead by example eg, are visibly seen to follow through on their verbal instructions by using correct PPE themselves, or correcting unsafe work practices consistently (to everyone, every time).

Creating a Safe Workplace

Managers and supervisors build a safe work culture by doing more than assigning job tasks, supervising, and disciplining staff. They must be active in creating a workplace where staff and contractors feel confident they can report unsafe working conditions without fear of reprisal from senior management or their co-workers.

And it doesn’t stop there. When safety issues are raised by staff they should be promptly addressed; by investigating the root causes and taking steps to fix the problem. If chemical safety issues need to be referred up the management chain it’s important to keep workers informed of the progress and how the situation is being handled. When staff believe their manager or supervisor is serious about chemical safety (and things are being addressed) they are more likely to wear that PPE; put chemicals away safely in the flammable liquids store; or keep compressed gas cylinders upright at all times.

A safe workplace that minimises chemical hazards is also supported by  managers and supervisors conducting:

  • Regular toolbox talks that remind staff of chemical hazards before beginning their shifts

  • Active health monitoring to ensure staff remain within safe chemical exposure limits

  • Routine inspections of work areas and chemical stores to ensure they are being kept clean, tidy, and compliant

  • Maintenance and repairs on operating equipment and PPE

Next Steps

If you’re a manager or supervisor and serious about creating a safe work culture, here at STOREMASTA we have developed a free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to help you better understand chemical hazards and the risk management process. Download and read it today and learn how to identify and control the chemicals risks and hazards at your worksite.

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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