How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace

Feb 26, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Many organisations that carry hazardous chemicals at their workplace are easily sold safety cabinets, PPE, and emergency equipment to match the hazard class of the substances.

They mistakenly believe that this is all that is required to extinguish their WHS responsibilities and keep workers safe. This article is a quick introduction to the risk management process and provides a practical demonstration of a methodology applied to chemical hazards and Dangerous Goods.

REMEMBER: Sometimes in their efforts to pursue ‘compliance’ business owners forget that the goal of Work Health and Safety is to keep people, property, and the environment safe from harm. Always make SAFETY the driving force behind your actions.

 Understanding the risk

Beware of any organisation that tries to sell you safety products such as flammable liquids storage cabinets without taking the time to get to know your business and the hazards inherent to your operations. Chemical hazards are complex and require skill and experience to fully identify and understand them. Many substances are toxic when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, AND at the same time are flammable, capable of exploding, or reacting dangerously with other materials.

Hazardous chemicals like wood dust, welding fumes, and diesel exhaust are all generated by work processes, while compressed gases carry additional hazards because they are stored at high pressure and the cylinders are bulky, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre. Before approving that next purchase order for safety equipment, make sure you have conducted a risk assessment that identifies each of the substances and Dangerous Goods present at the worksite (and their quantities), then evaluates how they are currently being used, stored, and handled.

Using a Risk Management Methodology

Here at STOREMASTA we have developed our own 4-STEP risk management methodology to help our clients select the most efficient (and compliant) storage solutions for their hazardous chemicals and Dangerous Goods. Let’s take a quick look at it in action.

Just imagine your floor staff have told you they want to buy a spill bund for a pallet that holds 25 litre containers of corrosive cleaning chemicals. The pallet sits right next to a foam dispensing system used in your warehouse. But before you sign off on that purchase order, we suggest working through our methodology as follows:

STEP 1: Identify

Perform an inspection of the workstation taking note of the way the chemical containers are stacked, plus talk to floor staff and line supervisors about their work practices. You might identify that the order is for 1 pallet bund (max of 12 containers) but there are currently 27 containers stacked next to the dispenser. Your also discover there is no spill kit nearby and the only available safety shower/eyewash station is being obstructed by the stacks of chemical containers.

 Using this information you identify the following chemical hazards:

 Corrosive chemicals being stored without spill protection.

  • Large number of chemical containers creating an obstruction hazard rendering safety shower and eyewash facilities NON-COMPLIANT.

  • Chemical containers stacked high and at risk of collapsing.

STEP 2: Assess

Step 2 of the STOREMASTA methodology is where you evaluate the severity of the dangerous incidents or workplace accidents that could occur if the hazards remain as they are. In this example you determine that 1 pallet bund would not be sufficient spill protection for the quantity of chemical containers currently stored near the dispenser. Even purchasing additional bunds won’t remove the obstruction hazard affecting the emergency wash station.

STEP 3: Control

STOREMASTA use the Hierarchy of Control to eliminate or minimise chemical hazards. The Hierarchy of Control is a way of ranking risk control measures — from the most reliable and effective level of protection — to the least. Here’s how it works.

  1. Elimination - how could you complete eliminate the hazard?

  2. Substitution - is there a less harmful substance that could be used in instead?

  3. Engineering - what mechanical devices, equipment, or changes to workplace design could you implement?

  4. Administration - could you introduce standard operating and housekeeping procedures that improve safety?

  5. Personal Protective Equipment  - is there any PPE that staff could wear to protect them from the hazard?

In our example above you consider storing the chemicals in your existing outdoor corrosive chemical store and only keeping the actual container attached to the dispensing system in the area. You decide to purchase a smaller polyethylene bund for the container, plus implement an operating procedure for storing the chemicals in a different area.

 STEP 4: Sustain

The last step SUSTAIN keeps the risk management process in perpetual motion. After implementing all these changes you conduct a follow up risk assessment only to discover that containers are still being left at the dispenser.  Apparently staff are getting frustrated because they are using 4 x containers everyday day and the outdoor corrosive store is a long way from the dispensing station. You consider installing an indoor corrosive cabinet (with in-built spill containment system) and adjunct spill kit plus emergency wash system.

Next steps

This simple example demonstrates a risk management approach to chemical safety in the workplace. In a real work scenario you would also be evaluating fire hazards, equipment and machinery (eg, forklifts or vehicles), and other Dangerous Goods stored in the area. But the whole point is to demonstrate that purchasing safety equipment is always a strategic decision based on the operational needs and chemical hazards unique to your business. For more information why not download our FREE eBook How to Manage the Risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace.

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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