Record keeping, administration, and paperwork often get a bad rap — falsely accused of being laborious, time consuming, and something that gets in the way of the real work.
But when it comes to managing the risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, we know that consistent and efficient record keeping is an essential part of the hazard identification and risk management process (as well as overall compliance.) This blog takes a look at safety records and why they’re an essential part of your risk management program.
What’s so great about safety records?
When managed properly, safety records can bind the entire organisation toward a working safety culture. Good records help you efficiently manage your chemical inventory, enable management transparency, as well as document compliance. Let’s take a look at each.
1. Inventory Management
When you have a reliable record keeping system you can easily track your inventory of hazardous chemicals and Dangerous Goods — you’ll know exactly what stocks you have on hand, where they are stored, and the age of containers and storage cabinets.
Many hazardous chemicals have expiry dates, so inventory records are more effective if you build in automated triggers and flags for when:
Chemical stocks exceed Manifest and Placarding quantities
Chemicals approach their use-by-dates
Chemical stores are due for inspection and integrity testing
Gas bottles are getting close to their test dates
We know that people don’t stay in job roles forever, and good records enable the next person in the job to continue the WHS momentum without having to reinvent the wheel. Let’s look at the following simple example below.
A hazard has been identified in the flammable liquids store — containers of flammables are being delivered by suppliers and left sitting in the yard for up to 48 hours before being put away. There is no spill protection and the chemicals are vulnerable to the weather, theft, and impact damage. A risk assessment determines the best way to address the issue is to eliminate the hazard by using a different supplier who calls before arriving at the worksite. Records aren’t considered necessary because it’s a ‘quick-fix’ solution.
Now 2 years later the same thing is happening and another risk assessment is carried out, this time by a different manager because the previous WHS manager has already left the company. The new manager decides to fix the problem by changing suppliers. But if proper records had been kept the hazard might have actually been eliminated earlier, as a risk management report could have been presented to a WHS committee or management team for tracking and ongoing review.
Many records are mandatory under Australian WHS Regulations and your workplace will not be compliant without them. Essential records include:
Register and Manifest of Hazardous Chemicals
Employee health monitoring records
Monitoring airborne contaminant levels
Risk assessments relating to certain high risk occupations (eg, chemicals used or stored in confined spaces)
Staff training (eg, emergency drills, high risk occupations)
Records of equipment testing and tagging
Usage of prohibited or restricted hazardous chemicals
What sort of WHS records should be kept (and how)?
Record management involves more than keeping every piece of paperwork that passes through the organisation. An efficient records system enables you to find the stuff you need, quickly. This is especially important for WHS records, as someone’s life may depend on how fast you can access a Safety Data Sheet or health monitoring report. Here are a few suggestions.
Purchase records of chemicals and storage equipment
As mentioned earlier, many chemicals have use-by-dates and won’t be safe for use once that has expired. At the same time safety cabinets and storage equipment will degrade with heavy usage (particularly if they are kept outdoors in an extreme climate.) The records you keep should track key purchasing and installation dates.
Many workplaces approach record keeping by stuffing a pile of invoices into a filing cabinet, or having a computer folder filled with PDF documents that have vague file names. We suggest building an electronic inventory of your chemical stocks and cabinets, taking the time to create an inventory system that summarises purchases and doesn’t rely on a pile of source documents.
Site inspections and safety audits
How can you turn 5 years worth of site inspections and safety audits into a meaningful record system? You could incorporate each safety audit into your risk management program, developing an action plan which tracks the control measures you’ve implemented for each hazard. Then adding or deleting items as another site inspection is conducted.
Incident reports include reportable workplace accidents and near misses, but could also include things like equipment breakdowns, power outages, or the theft of chemicals. Reviewing incident reports can indicate hazards missed in previous risk assessments. Like safety audits, these can also be incorporated into your risk management program and action plans.
Staff induction and training records
Your training records should include the content of each training/induction module, as well as the dates the training was delivered; plus attendance records. Many organisations have workers sign individual attendance sheets and keep a copy in their personnel files. If a worker is involved in an accident or chemical exposure incident you may be required by health and safety authorities to demonstrate the worker understood the hazards of the chemicals and was properly supervised. Effective training records will also have automated triggers for refresher training and competence reviews.
Efficient record keeping can effectively contribute to the safety of your workplace and assist you in maintaining chemical control measures and safety equipment. We suggest downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace for a better understanding of the risk management process and access to a set of practical WHS documents you can use at your own workplace. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: