Labeling and storing hazardous chemicals

Dec 21, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

When you use, store, or handle any type of hazardous chemicals on the job site you have a legal responsibility to ensure those chemicals are correctly labeled. Hazardous chemicals labeled correctly are easy to identify and quickly alert workers to the health and physical hazards that could put their safety at risk. This blog outlines 3 essential steps (plus one extra) for ensuring the chemicals at your workplace are always labeled correctly.

ASK YOURSELF: Do you have procedures in place if a chemical label fell off a package of hazardous chemicals? How about when you decant fuel or cleaning products into portable containers? What do you do about containers that are too small for a label?

STEP 1: Labeling hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Before you can make sure a chemical is labeled correctly you need to know the requirements of the WHS Regulations. In Australia labels on hazardous chemicals must be written in English and contain the following information:

  • Product identifier

  • Contact details of the manufacturer or importer

  • Breakdown of the ingredients with percentages/ratios

  • Hazard Pictogram

  • Hazard Statement, Signal Word, Precautionary Statements

  • First aid treatment and emergency procedures if not already included in the precautionary statements

  • Expiry date (if applicable)

You’ll need labels and signs for chemicals manufactured in your workplace (including research samples created in the lab); chemicals transferred or decanted from the original container; and chemicals held in a pipe line.

Decanted or transferred hazardous chemicals

If you decant or transfer a chemical out of its original container you have a responsibility to ensure that the secondary or portable container is correctly labeled. Many workplace accidents have occurred when staff have decanted cleaning chemicals into soft drink bottles or plastic cups — then mistakenly consumed by a co-worker or customer.

As a minimum the secondary container holding a decanted chemical must display both:

NOTE: The decanted chemical does not require labeling if the entire amount will be used immediately (and ONLY) by the person who decanted it. AND never left unattended. PLUS the container is cleaned so thoroughly it is in the same condition as if it never held the chemical.

Small containers

Sometime chemicals are stored or transferred into containers or ampoules which are so small that a label won’t fit. Tiny containers require the same amount of information as any other hazardous chemical container. Ways to get around this may be to keep very small ampoules in a box and attach the label to the outside of the box, or keep a leaflet inside. Swing tags can also be attached to some  small containers.

NOTE: The Code of Practice (by Safe Work Australia) for the Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals displays label templates for small containers.

Other chemical labeling requirements

There are other hazardous chemicals that will also require labeling. These include:

  • Waste products - if it is reasonably likely that a waste product is a hazardous substance, then it must be labeled with as much information as possible including pictogram, hazard class and precautionary statements.

  • Pipe work - pipes that convey hazardous chemicals must be colour coded with compliant signs  and placards erected nearby. The pipework must be clearly marked on schematic drawings or site plans.

  • Research chemicals - created in the lab for analysis must be labeled with as much information as possible including the chemical properties, ingredient mix and likely hazards.

ESSENTIAL: Once you have labeled a container for holding a substance you must then make sure that no other substance is stored in that container.

STEP 2: Receiving hazardous chemicals

Having an excellent relationship with your suppliers and understanding your supply chain is a critical aspect of chemical safety. Once you’re fully conversant with chemical labeling requirements, train your staff to never to accept a delivery of substances  that don’t have a correct label and Safety Data Sheet.

TIP: Apart from incorrectly labeled chemicals, don’t accept deliveries of chemical packages that are damaged or have broken seals. Reject gas bottles with worn label plates or outside their test date.

STEP 3: Storing chemicals safely

One of the best ways to minimise risk when carrying hazardous chemicals at the worksite is to have consistent housekeeping practices and train your staff to put chemical containers away when they aren’t being used. Being storage experts, the team here at STOREMASTA have a few quick recommendations:

  • Create dedicated chemical stores for different hazard classes using purpose-built safety cabinets. For example: cabinets for compressed gases, corrosives, and detonators arrive with the correct placards, labels and signs.

  • Have convenient under-bench cabinets available for smaller quantities of lab chemicals like acid. This dissuades staff from leaving chemicals on the floor, bench tops, window ledges, or balconies.

  • Keep flammable liquids, corrosives and toxic chemicals in dedicated cabinets that are fitted with perforated shelving and a liquid-tight spill sump.

  • Have correctly labeled spill kits on hand and train staff how to use them.

  • Keep hard copies of Safety Data Sheets attached to chemical cabinets in a robust document box. Again, properly marked and labeled.

STEP 4: Once you have everything in place conduct regular site audits that note incorrect labels and missing placards. Take corrective action and get those labels where they should be and placards replaced.

Next Steps

Checking your chemical stores for correct container labeling and safety compliance auditing is an essential part of chemical risk management. To learn more about how to fully comply with WHS Regulations and chemical safety standards we encourage you to download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Read it today and get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant.

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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