Mandatory signs for hazardous chemicals stored at your workplace

Dec 27, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

In Australia any hazardous chemical that is used, handled or stored at a workplace must be correctly labelled. This blog focuses on the placards and labels required by Australian WHS Regulations and helps you ensure that the chemical storage facility at your worksite complies with the legislation of your own state or territory.

REMEMBER: to prepare a correct and accurate label for a hazardous chemical, you need to know the correct classification of the hazardous chemical. Please read our earlier post Understanding Chemicals in the Workplace or download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace.

Chemical safety labels and placards

Chemical safety placards and signs quickly alert worksite staff and visitors that chemical hazards exist in the workplace. They identify specific hazards (flammable liquids) and outline precautions for anyone using them.

All though it is up to manufacturers, importers and suppliers to correctly label hazardous chemicals, once they reach your workplace and are transferred out of their original container, you are responsible for labelling the new container. You also have responsibilities to ensure chemical storage areas have appropriate warning signs.

Examples of Chemical Warning Signs

Hazardous chemicals labels in Australia have four essential elements: -

  • Pictograms - a graphical representation of the hazard class. eg, Flammable, Corrosive
  • Signal Words - either the words ‘DANGER’ or ‘WARNING’ to indicate the relative severity of the hazard.
  • Hazard Statements - quickly describe the nature and severity of the hazard eg, Highly flammable liquid and vapour, Toxic if swallowed, Causes skin irritation
  • Precautionary Statements - are recommendations for safe handling, responding to emergencies, storage requirements, and safe disposal. eg, Store locked up in a well-ventilated place. Keep cool.

Each of these elements will be contained on the product label and the accompanying Safety Data Sheet (SDS), but when storing hazardous chemicals you must also have additional signage to alert personnel they are entering a dedicated chemical storage area.

REMEMBER: pictograms for Hazardous Chemicals are different to pictograms for Dangerous Goods and should not be displayed together.

Locations for placards

Chemical warning signs known as placards must also be erected at the workplace in relation to a hazardous chemical. Hazardous chemical placards must be permanent (not portable or moveable) and positioned so that a person entering a chemical storage area will quickly see them. They should also be far enough away from the storage area to give someone enough time (after the first viewing) to heed the warnings.

Some requirements when installing chemical warning signs include:-

  • ensuring placards are installed at the main entrance of the building (as well as with the chemicals)
  • mounting the placard at eye level (or as close as possible to the natural line of sight)
  • making sure there is enough light (natural or artificial) to illuminate the signs
  • making sure movable objects (opening windows and doors, racks or trolleys) don’t obstruct the signs
  • not confusing or distracting employees and visitors by erecting the placard near other signs
  • maintaining signs so they are kept clean and in good repair
  • quickly amending signs if changes are made to operating procedures or labeling guidelines

REMEMBER: to ensure your signage complies with legislation check the WHS Regulation in your state as well as the Code of Practice for Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals released by SafeWork Australia.

Costs of incorrect signage

There are huge costs associated with failing to label your chemical storage areas correctly. Though there are three main costs (as indicated below) the human cost is the most difficult to bear.

  • Human costs: associated with the death or injury to the people accessing chemical stores unaware of the hazards.
  • Operating costs: the damage to buildings or plant associated with adjacent work activities conducted without knowledge of chemical hazards in a nearby storage area.
  • Penalties and fines: though they vary by state and territory, fines of around $6,000 for individuals and $30,000 for corporations can be awarded for not having correct labelling and placard signage at chemical stores.

Next Steps

Ensuring that the hazardous chemical storage areas at your workplace are correctly signed is an important part of effective risk management. Why not download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to learn how to get started with the management of hazardous chemicals. Download it now 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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