Maintaining chemical hazard control measures

Jan 30, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

You’ve identified and assessed the chemical hazards at your workplace: you’ve introduced hazard control measures. But is your workplace 100% safety compliant? This blog is about the systems you’ll need to have in place to ensure chemical compliance and to help you understand that good risk management is always a journey and never a destination.

Use a risk management methodology

The best way to effectively manage and control all the chemical hazards at your workplace is to implement a tested risk management methodology that operates in a circular fashion. It has four steps which continue to repeat so that each hazard is perpetually assessed and reviewed.

STEP 1: IDENTIFY

Locate each chemical used, stored, or generated at your worksite and identify all the physical or health hazards associated with the chemical.

STEP 2: ASSESS

For each chemical hazard assess the severity and determine how likely your workers are to be harmed by the chemicals. You’ll also be assessing the potential for physical damage to the property as well as any negative environmental impacts. Sometimes you’ll need to hire industry experts or experienced consultants to help you examine how things like work processes, chemical storage facilities (and even external factors like the climate) could contribute to the hazards.

STEP 3: CONTROL

During step 3 you’ll be looking for ways to eliminate each of the chemical hazards. If this is not possible you’ll introduce control measures to minimise the likelihood of workers being exposed to harmful concentrations of the chemicals. Maybe you’ll find a less harmful substitute for a highly toxic chemical, or install equipment that makes the workplace safer (like exhaust fans and chemical safety cabinets).

 STEP 4: SUSTAIN

Once you’ve introduced the different control measures you’ll need systems in place to ensure the hazards no longer exist, or the likelihood of someone being dangerously exposed to the chemical is now extremely low. You might implement preventative maintenance, and you’ll certainly program regular safety audits and site inspections into the work calendar. The SUSTAIN phase actually returns you to step 1 and triggers follow up risk identification and assessment actions to ensure your control measures have not created any new hazards.

Conducting chemical safety audits

If you are serious about chemical safety, scheduling regular safety audits is a workplace essential. A chemical safety audit is a type of site inspection that examines work and storage areas to ensure that chemicals are being used, stored and handled correctly.

The most effective safety audits utilise a prepared checklist (based on the hazards identified during previous risk assessments) to ensure you don’t miss anything — and as well as check the effectiveness of implemented control measures. Your safety audit and checklist might include prompts for checking:

  • HAZCHEM Registers and Safety Data Sheets.

  • Chemical expiry dates, as well as test dates of equipment and storage vessels.

  • Mandatory placards and signage.

  • Training records, permit expiry dates, or mandatory qualifications.

  • The state of PPE and if it’s being used correctly.

  • Compliance of chemical safety cabinets and storage areas.

  • Housekeeping and workplace hygiene practices.

  • Safety equipment and emergency plans.

Even your audit checklist needs regular review and should be updated as legislation changes or new chemicals are introduced to the workplace. Safety audits can be undertaken by a manager, an independent consultant, or an appointed safety team/committee. It’s always practical to consult workers from each area who are actually using, handling or storing the chemicals.

Maintaining and updating your chemical stores

One of the most common issues we find during the safety audits we conduct on behalf of our clients, is chemical safety cabinets and stores (that were purchased and setup years prior) that have been let fall into disrepair, or are no longer compliant with current Australian Safety Standards.

Your safety audits should pay special attention to chemical stores to ensure that staff are following housekeeping procedures and putting chemicals into the correct cabinets. Supervisors shouldn’t be waiting for a safety audit to enforce strict housekeeping practices. Leaking and broken containers can quickly start fires or contaminate soil and waterways.

In our safety audits issues we regularly see are:

  • Flammable liquids cabinets recommissioned for other incompatible chemicals eg. Class 8 corrosives which require a metal-free cabinet and different signage.

  • Obsolete flammable liquids cabinets that do not have self-closing doors.

  • Gas cylinders standing unrestrained inside the gas bottle cage.

  • Gas bottle cages located near the perimeter fencing and vulnerable to falling tree branches and other combustible debris.

  • Chemical cabinets located near ignition sources eg, machinery that generates heat and work processes that generate sparks.

  • Drums of waste oil left on the ground without any spillage precautions.

  • Chemical containers with missing labels (or so worn they cannot be understood).

  • Mixed classes of chemicals in the one cabinet. Eg, containers of corrosive degreaser at the back of a flammable liquids store.

  • Cabinets with no Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) located close by.

  • Using an old chemical cabinet for combustible liquids with a missing floor and spill sump.

  • Containers with missing lids or put away with large amounts of chemical residue spilled down the outside of the container.

  • Drums, tins, and portable chemical containers shoved into cabinet in a way that reduces the amount of containers that can be placed inside. Staff on subsequent shifts then leave chemical containers outside the cabinet or place them on top because they don’t know what else to do.

Even though a chemical safety audit will identify any or all of these faults, it is far better to implement good housekeeping procedures and have supervisors taking corrective actions with staff on a daily basis. Maintaining control chemical control measures is about keeping your chemical stores clean and putting things away correctly.

Next Steps

Maintaining chemical control measures requires regular safety audits, good housekeeping, and a solid risk management methodology that has mechanisms for reviewing the chemical hazards at your worksite. To learn more download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace — it contains the information, tools and templates your need to get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant. Download and 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 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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