Identifying and managing hazardous chemicals generated in the workplace

Dec 26, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

When identifying chemical hazards at your workplace you may need to conduct a risk assessment on your work processes to determine if any additional hazardous substances could be generated as by-products, waste, or residue. Because substances like welding fume, grain dust, and diesel exhaust don’t arrive labeled and packed with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) — in many workplaces the risks surrounding hazardous chemicals of this nature are not fully understood. This blog will help you determine if your workplace is likely to have an exposure risk to hazardous substances generated by your workplace and the steps you need to take to identify, assess, and control the hazards.

Step 1: Understand how hazardous chemicals are generated in the workplace

It’s important to have a real understanding of all the hazardous substances likely to be present at your workplace because you have a legal obligation to manage the risks associated with all of them. At your job site, hazardous chemicals could be generated in two ways:

  • During a work process:  eg, wood dust from using a lathe, sander, or saw; welding fume in the breaching zone of welders; solvent vapours from glues and adhesives.

  • As a form of waste or residue: eg, hydrogen sulphide from sewerage; carbon monoxide and other toxins in diesel exhaust; carbon emissions from primary materials manufacturing (iron, steel, cement, paper, petrochemicals).

REMEMBER: Hazardous substances generated in the workplace can harm more than your workers, they can also impact waterways, livestock, flora and fauna on adjoining properties, as well as the atmosphere.

Step 2: Refer to reliable sources for known chemical hazards

Once you have an idea of how work processes and waste materials can contribute to chemical hazards, you should consult reliable external sources for more information about the substances likely to be present at your own job site. We recommend consulting the following sources:

1. Manufacturers, suppliers and importers

The manufacturer, supplier or importer of hazardous chemicals will provide you with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each substance you use, store, or handle at your worksite. While SDSs will detail the toxicology, health and physical hazards of the chemicals, there may not be full details of the hazards associated with smoke and fume, reactions with incompatible substances, and waste by-products.

Talk to your supplier to gain a better understanding how individual chemicals react during different processes, climates, and working conditions. They can also indicate any industrial uses that create emissions, or by-products in the form of smoke, vapours, dusts and fume.

2. Hazardous Chemical Information System or (HCIS)

The HCIS is a database of hazardous chemicals updated and monitored by Safe Work Australia. The website provides up-to-date information for  more than 4,500 substances classified according to the GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals).

You’ll also find information for approximately 700 hazardous chemicals that have an Australian Workplace Exposure Standard. For example: you will currently find an exposure standard on the HCIS for welding fume, grain dust, and wood dust.

3. State Regulators

The website of the Regulator in your state or territory (eg, SafeWork SA, WorkSafe QLD) will contain industry specific resources as well as the latest legislation and Codes of Practice. The environmental protection authority in your state will also have information about typical chemical wastes and emissions generated by industry sector.

4. Industry Associations

Your own industry association will be a valuable source of information about the chemical hazards likely to be at your workplace. They will have information about emissions and workplace generated chemicals common to your standard industry processes, raw materials, and machinery.

5. Independent WHS Consultants and Specialists

Independent WHS consultants are an excellent sources of knowledge as their field experience covers a wide range of industries as well as specialist areas. You may need to consult individual specialists such as occupational hygienists or toxicologists who can help you determine chemical exposure levels and the risks to your workers.

Independent consultants can also undertake workplace audits; help you apply the requirements of Australian Safety Standards and Codes of Practice to your workplace; and help you implement a compliant risk management plan.

REMEMBER: Information about hazardous by-products and waste may not always be available from a Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

Step 3: Conduct a risk assessment on your work processes

A risk assessment on work processes is a way of determining the true level of risk employees face in their individual work areas.

WORKPLACE EXAMPLE: Your maintenance crew carry out welding work. So you’ll want to assess the hazards that surround the welding fume in the breathing zone of the workers. You would need to consider the type of fume being generated (combination of welding process, base metal, filler materials, and welding rod); the work practices and technique of the welders; ventilation in the work areas.

We recommend conducting your risk assessment using the STOREMASTA 4-STEP methodology because it is a continuous process that (if followed correctly and completely) will get you workplace 100% safety compliant. The four steps work as follows:

  1. Identify: work method and hazard (eg, sanding furniture - wood dust - chronic disease and dust explosions)

  2. Assess: the level of risk to workers (based on the toxicity of the chemical, the exposure route (inhalation, impact from explosion), the duration of the exposure or the likelihood of a dangerous event occurring.

  3. Control: eliminate or minimise the impact of the hazard by implement a series of control measures (the requirements of Safety Standards, Codes of Practice etc are all known control measures)

  4. Sustain: conduct regular audits, workplace monitoring, and reviews to ensure that compliance is sustained.

Next Steps

Would you like to know more about using a 4-STEP risk management methodology to identify, assess and control the hazards of chemical by-products, waste materials and other hazardous substances generated in the workplace? Download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace, 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 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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