To safely use, handle, and store hazardous chemicals at your worksite you need to do more than read chemical product labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Many hazards are not immediately obvious and arise from the nature of the work carried out with the chemicals. This blog introduces you to a wider range of research materials and professional organisations that can help you identify chemical hazards, understand how they could affect your workers, and decide on suitable control measures.
LEGISLATION: A person conducting a business or undertaking must manage the risks to health and safety associated with using, handling, generating or storing a hazardous chemical at a workplace.
Documents at your own workplace are an excellent starting point for identifying chemical risks and hazards. Recurring incidents and safety concerns reported by workers can indicate hazards overlooked during a workplace inspection or site audit. Sources include:
- Incident records - your workers, managers and supervisors should be recording details of workplace accidents, illnesses, and near misses. Example: you have a fuel decanting station in place for workshop and warehouse maintenance crews, but an incident report identifies a worker who was hospitalised after swallowing petrol while siphoning fuel. This could indicate a lack of training or a fault in the decanting station that requires repair.
- Minutes of staff meetings - these can be really helpful if you’re taking on a new role in an organisation as workers often raise safety concerns during meetings. Example: A forklift driver complains at site meetings over 3 consecutive months that gas cylinders are being left unattended (and unchained) next to the gate of the gas bottle cage. The gas bottle cage could be at capacity, is locked and inaccessible, or staff aren’t being properly supervised.
- Previous risk assessments - when a chemical hazard is considered ‘eliminated’ or ’substituted’ it is often removed from your current paperwork. Example: a risk assessment from two years ago identifies the location of a significant diesel spill. Are there ongoing environment impacts? Does the site require testing for chemical exposure levels?
The Regulator in your state or territory carry the most up-to-date information about your WHS compliance responsibilities. They’ll have downloadable resources about how to meet your legal obligations and many of these documents will contain information about specific chemicals as well as overall chemical safety. Documents include:
- Codes of Practice (eg, Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace; Spray painting and powder coating; Welding processes)
- Guidance Materials (eg, Hazardous chemicals requiring health monitoring; Guidance on the interpretation of Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants)
- Fact Sheets (eg, Understanding hazardous chemicals, Checklist for risk managing heat in the workplace)
- Reports (eg, Benchmarking of Exposures to Wood Dust and Formaldehyde in Selected Industries in Australia; Attitudes towards risk taking and rule breaking in Australian workplaces)
Industry associations enable you to focus on chemical risks and hazards common to your industry. Many larger associations conduct their own research and produce relevant white papers; release regular newsletters; and issue safety alerts. You could consult your own association about industry specific chemical hazards including:
- Dust explosions (grains and cereals)
- Wood dust inhalation (woodworking and carpentry)
- Exposure to diesel and petroleum exhaust (driving and transport)
- Pesticide exposure (agriculture and pest control)
- Accidents caused by flammable refrigerants (air conditioning)
- Fuel storage and handling systems (road transport and service stations)
- Chlorine exposure (pool operators and chemical retailers)
Depending on your membership level, you may also have access to professional consultants employed by your industry association. At the same time trade unions and employee associations often have information about industry specific accidents and working hazards.
Consultants and occupational safety professionals
Independent consultants with specialised training and field experience can help you identify and assess the chemical hazards at your workplace. They are skilled in undertaking site audits, testing chemical exposure levels, and applying WHS legislation and safety standards to operating procedures. Use WHS professionals for:
- Assessing ventilation levels in the laboratory.
- Installing emergency response equipment including first aid kits, chemical safety showers, and eye wash stations.
- Testing and calculating exposure levels of air-borne contaminants.
- Auditing flammable liquids stores for safety and compliance.
- Introducing chemical spill control measures.
Learn more about chemical hazards from the excellent websites published by international WHS regulators, authority groups, and universities. We suggest:
- United States Department of Labor (OSH Administration) website has a database that lists real workplace accidents recorded since 1984. Search by accident type or industry sector and use chemicals names as search terms. Eg, a search using the word ‘diesel’ identified exposure incidents where workers were overcome by fumes, or accidentally swallowed the chemical while siphoning fuel. Another worker died while cleaning up a diesel spill.
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website has an excellent knowledge base that identifies known chemical hazards, health effects, control measures.
- European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has a large database of information about chemicals, in particular ‘substances of very high concern’.
- University websites often publicly share their chemical safety procedures, laboratory manuals, and chemical research papers.
WARNING: When conducting any research don’t rely on sites like Quora, Wikipedia and social media. Very often these sites contain unsubstantiated opinions, hyped-up data, and incorrect statistics.
Once you’ve conducted your research and compiled a detailed list of chemical hazards, you’ll need to assess how those hazards could affect your workers. What type of accidents could happen? Could someone die? Learn how to apply a tested Risk Management methodology to the chemical hazards at your worksite by downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: