‘Notifiable Incidents’ involving hazardous chemicals

Jul 9, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

When someone becomes sick, injured, or dies at a workplace in Australia, the WHS authority in your state or territory must be notified immediately — and by the fastest possible means. There are also a number of Dangerous Incidents which must be reported. This blog will help you understand the different types of Notifiable Incidents as defined by the WHS Regulations, particularly when hazardous chemicals have been involved. All the incidents described in this blog actually happened.

IMPORTANT: Notifiable Incidents are those which happen
at a workplace or arise through the course of doing business.

Deaths, injuries and illnesses

Notifiable deaths, injuries, and illnesses are those which affect people harmed through the conduct of business. It’s more than just incidents affecting employees and hired contractors, but also  includes site visitors, customers, delivery drivers — even bystanders and members of the public. Here are some examples.

Workplace fatalities

The death of a direct employee, contractor or bystander.

EXAMPLE: A chemical explosion at a crystal manufacturing plant destroyed a concrete production building. Pieces of concrete and building debris were launched into a petrol station almost a kilometre away. A truck driver who was filling his vehicle with diesel at the petrol station, was struck and killed by a piece of concrete.

Serious injuries

Whenever a person is admitted to hospital and their injury was caused by an incident in the workplace. This includes medical treatment within 48 hours of exposure to a chemical or substance.

EXAMPLE: A worker at a heavy construction company was filling a large pot with heated emulsion oil. When the nozzle failed, hot oil splashed onto the worker who was hospitalised for chemical burns to the eyes, face and chest.

Please note that only incidents where the worker is actually admitted to hospital are notifiable. So an incident involving a lab worker who was treated for chemical burns through hospital outpatients, is NOT a notifiable incident.


There are also a number of illnesses that must be reported.

Check the WHS Regulation for details of specific illnesses as these have microbial (not chemical) causes.


Dangerous Incidents in the WHS Regulations

Dangerous Incident is a term defined by Australian WHS Regulations and refers to specific events which expose your workers (and any other person) to significant health and safety risks. Dangerous Incidents are sometimes referred to in the workplace as near-misses or close-calls, and they must be reported to the WHS Regulator even if no-one was hurt.

Real world examples of notifiable Dangerous Incidents involving hazardous chemicals include:

Uncontrolled escape, spillage or leakage of a substance

EXAMPLE: A worker was retrieving a pallet of corrosive scale/rust remover with a forklift. The pallet contained 8 x 4 litre containers of the chemical and there was no stretch-wrap or tape to hold the containers in place. All 8 containers fell off the pallet, popping the lids and spilling the acid onto the concrete floor of the warehouse.

Uncontrolled implosion, explosion or fire

EXAMPLE: a worker was welding a bracket on a tank, and was situated about 2 metres away from a tank of paint thinner. Hot slag landed in the solvent and ignited the tank. A co-worker used a dry chemical extinguisher on the fire but it quickly spread, with flames engulfing the entire solvent tank.

Uncontrolled escape of gas or steam

EXAMPLE: A pipe which carried chlorinated wash water through a work area began to leak. The leak was not noticed until workers began feeling an irritation in their throats. They had been exposed to chlorine dioxide gas and the plant was evacuated until the leak could be contained.

Uncontrolled escape of a pressurised substance

EXAMPLE: A worker left a cylinder of compressed gas standing at a fill station while making a quick check on another area. Somehow the cylinder ruptured and the rapid release of the compressed gas propelled the cylinder, launching it into the air. Walls were damaged and a concrete block was shattered. Debris from the concrete block damaged the manifold on the filling station.

IMPORTANT: Our expertise at STOREMASTA relates to hazardous chemicals and Dangerous Goods, so in this blog we focus on HAZCHEM incidents. Check the WHS Regulation current in your state or territory for the full list of notifiable Dangerous Incidents.


Notification process

Notifiable Incidents must be reported to the WHS Regulator in your state or territory immediately after you become aware it has happened — and by the fastest possible means. The fastest possible means is usually telephone and your Regulator (eg, SafeWork NSW) usually requires you to follow up in writing within 48 hours. Some states have online notification process.

You also have a legal responsibility to preserve the incident scene and minimise disturbance until a WHS arrives (or you are given different instructions by the Regulator). That said, safety is always the priority and you must do all you can to:

  • Assist and evacuate injured workers or bystanders.
  • Remove a deceased person.
  • Ensure the safety and security of everyone at the job site.


When hazardous chemicals are involved the incident scene may have a high concentration of flammable vapours, toxic gas, as well as smoke, fumes and dust. And if compressed gases have been released in a confined space you may also have asphyxiation hazards. It is essential that securing the scene does not lead to further injuries.

Next steps

If a notifiable incident involving hazardous chemicals has occurred at your workplace, you will want to conduct your own internal incident investigation. For a step-by-step guide to the investigation process we invite your to download our free eBook Key steps in a HAZCHEM incident investigation. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

Key Steps in a HAZCHEM Incident Investigation

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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