How to identify chemical hazards from incident reports and other workplace documents

Jan 14, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Identifying chemical hazards is a complex process as the real risk of using a chemical is often generated by the way it is used and the amount of training a worker has received. This blog explains how to use workplace documents like incident reports, sick leave records, and even supplier invoices to identify chemical hazards missed during your site inspection or chemical safety audit.

REMEMBER: Australian WHS Regulations required any person carrying out a business or undertaking to take into consideration the nature of the work being carried out with hazardous chemicals.

Incident reports

Workplace incident reports must be be completed for serious workplace accidents and illnesses incidents and near-misses then submitted to the Regulator in your state or territory.  Examples of notifiable chemical incidents include:

  • Chemical burn requiring hospitalisation.

  • Major chemical spill.

  • Uncontrolled release of compressed gases, even if no one was injured.

It is also considered best practice to complete an incident and accident report for less serious workplace incidents and accidents. Even though these incident reports don’t need to be submitted to the Regulator they are a useful tool when kept as part of your safety records. These incidents might include:

  • A chemical burn that only requires first aid treatment and a dressing.

  • Eye exposure to a substance that causes irritation but does not require medical attention.

  • A small chemical fire in the lab that is contained and quickly extinguished.

Reviewing incident reports periodically can expose chemical hazards arising from incorrect work processes, inadequate PPE, missing placards and signage, training inadequacies, or lack of supervision. Examples include:

  • A worker starts a fire. They were using aerosol spray paint to place cutting marks on steel while using an acetylene welder. (incorrect work processes).

  • A worker receives cold burn injuries while changing an LPG gas connection. They were wearing cotton gloves with no thermal protection. (inadequate PPE).

  • A contractor is splashed in the face with chemicals but can’t find the eye wash station.  (missing placards and signage).

  • An single worker drops a gas cylinder from a trolley 3 times in 6 weeks. (training inadequacies).

  • A worker needs medical attention after swallowing diesel fuel. They were siphoning fuel by sucking fuel through a hose instead of using the decanting station. (lack of supervision).

Supplier invoices

Incident, accident, and near miss reports are only useful if they are actually filled out and submitted to management. Despite being obliged to file certain incident and safety reports, sometimes workers don’t complete them because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Here are a few ways that invoices submitted to the accounts department can indicate chemical hazards that have slipped under your guard:

  • Fire extinguishers - an invoice for a fire extinguisher being refilled might indicate a series of chemical fires in the lab that were unreported. There may be a work method that needs changing, or a storage area that requires attention.

  • Compressed gases - abnormally high usage of compressed gases could indicate skylarking (using gases and cylinders inappropriately), or staff not turning off valves correctly when putting cylinders into storage. Staff may require more supervision and training.

  • Chemical spills - an out of sequence order for additional fuel or solvents might be because of an accidental spill that was cleaned up and not reported. There could be a fault with the decanting equipment, or staff may require additional training. At the same time there may now be an additional fire or exposure hazard at the cleanup site.

Sick leave records

Seemingly harmless chemicals may be overlooked in risk assessments but when workers use them over and over (or in a confined space) the level of exposure may produce chronic health problems not immediately noticeable. Individual workers who repeatedly require medical attention or are off work due to illness may require formal health monitoring.

Regularly review sick leave records for the following patterns:

  • Individual staff repeatedly off work.

  • More than one worker from a collective work area with much higher incidences of sick leave.

  • Repeated absences from all staff at the job site due to the same illness/injury.

Minutes of safety meetings

Safety meetings and toolbox talks are excellent platforms for workers and staff to report recurring incidents and safety concerns. And because staff often readily take that opportunity, these meetings can easily turn into whinging sessions. Sometimes the issues raised are not given the full attention they deserve. Staff complaining about “Joe who never puts away the paint” are often discounted as ‘whingers’ when actually Joe can’t put away the paint because the Flammable Liquids cabinet is at capacity. Reviewing the meeting minutes and official records can expose chemical hazards created by poor housekeeping or insufficient chemical storage areas.

Next Steps

Would you like more information about how to incorporate the hazards you’ve identified from incident reports and sick leave records into your risk management plan? Why not download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. We detail the full risk management process and explain how to get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant. 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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