Who is responsible for hazardous chemicals and safety at your workplace?

Dec 26, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Many thousands of workers around Australia have been injured or permanently disabled from accidents involving hazardous chemicals — in NSW alone in a span of just 4 years 6,500 workers were injured. And across the entire country (2003-2016) 30 people died from chemical related injuries, 17 of those were after single contact with the chemical or hazardous substance.


But
who is responsible for the hazardous chemicals and overall chemical safety at your workplace? For compliance, minimising harm and preventing accidents? In a word … EVERYONE. This blog summarises the different levels of responsibility when hazardous chemicals are used and stored at your worksite including:

  • The key responsibilities and primary duty of care expected of business owners or other people conducting the business or enterprise (also known formally as the PCUB)

  • Managers and supervisors who implement chemical safety procedures and supervise staff

  • Workers employed by the PCUB

  • Suppliers and contractors engaged to carry out maintenance works or deliver chemicals onto the worksite

When everyone learns to use hazardous chemicals safely (and fully understands their WHS responsibilities), it keeps the workplace compliant and safe. Employees, site personnel and visitors are less likely to become ill, die or become injured; buildings and property are protected from damaging fires and explosions; and the environment unlikely to suffer from irreversible damage.

PCUB (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking)

The PCUB has the primary duty of care for overall work health and safety at the job site, this includes the management of hazardous chemicals. The PCUB is not just a ‘person’ or an individual, this area of responsibility extends to:

  • Sole traders and self-employed persons

  • Body corporates (companies), unincorporated bodies or associations

  • Partnerships (collective responsibilities)

As a PCUB you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that chemical risk assessments are undertaken and control measures implemented. You will need to ensure that your management team correctly introduces administrative, operational, and engineering programs that comply with the WHS Act and Regulations in your state or territory. Your chemical Safety compliance efforts will involve:

  • Understanding chemical hazards (hazard classes and health hazards), gathering Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and training staff to use, handle and store chemical substances correctly.

  • Ensuring that chemical exposure is kept within safe limits and the health of workers is monitored.

  • Correctly labeling and storing chemicals along with the necessary placards and signage.

  • Designing a safe workplace where chemicals are correctly segregated and safe dispensing stations are used.

  • Having response equipment (safety showers, eye wash stations, fire fighting gear, spill kits) and procedures for chemical emergencies including fires, explosions, and chemical spillages.

  • Controlling ignition sources, combustibles and waste materials so they don’t cause or contribute to a fire emergency or explosion.

TIP: Read our recent blog Hazardous Chemical Safety: essential duties of business owners and senior managers for a full outline of the legal obligations of the PCUB.

Managers and Supervisors

Managers and Supervisors are usually the ones who implement the administrative procedures, and operational policies that control chemical risks and hazards. And like all workers, they have a responsibility to follow those same procedures (leading by example). Managers and supervisors must also:

  • Train staff to understand their WHS duties and responsibilities, chemical hazards, and how to do their job safely

  • Implement operational policies and safety procedures

  • Provide adequate supervision and disciplining/retraining staff who don’t follow safety instructions

  • Not endanger their staff by allowing (or directing) unsafe work practices

Managers and supervisors often fail in their WHS duties by failing to follow the same WHS procedures they expect of their subordinates (like making everyone else where chemical resistant gloves and not bothering to wear their own PPE).

IMPORTANT: Sending a subordinate to work alone in a confined space, or a new worker to decant chemicals without sufficient training is behaviour that risks the injury or death of another person. It would be a breach of WHS duties.

Workers

Workers are the ones often injured in chemical accidents, and they rely on corporations, business owners, managers, and supervisors to provide them with a safe working environment. The primary responsibility of workers is to stay safe at work, follow instructions, abide by safety procedures, and not act in a way that causes harm to anyone else (or damages property).

As an example let’s consider PPE. Misusing personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the most common ways that workers fail in their WHS duties and dangerously expose themselves (and others) to hazardous chemicals. Any one of the breaches (listed below) stems from not following instructions, reckless behaviour, not taking reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as acting in a way that endangers others.

 

WHS Duty Breaches of Duty

 

Co-operate with safety policies and operating procedures ie, to wear issued PPE, keep it clean (as trained), and put it away in a PPE storage cabinet at the end of shift. 

  • Not wearing their own PPE
  • Not cleaning their PPE or leaving it lying around the worksite (as instructed) and it becomes damaged and no longer provides adequate chemical protection
  • Using a co-worker’s PPE which forces the other worker to carry out their duties without PPE
  • Playing a practical joke by hiding or defacing a co-worker’s PPE

 

IMPORTANT: Just like PCUB’s, managers, and supervisors; workers who do not fulfil their WHS duties are liable for fines and jail terms. Workers who engage in reckless behaviour that exposes another person to death or injury could be personally fined up to $300,000 and jailed for 5 years.

Suppliers and Contractors

When suppliers and contractors enter your worksite, they contribute to chemical safety by abiding with the safety policies of their own employers, as well as obeying the rules of your site. Just like employed workers they have a responsibility to keep themselves safe; not act in a way that would put anyone else in danger; and follow reasonable safety instructions.

Contractors (and sometimes suppliers also) should undergo a site safety induction which outlines these responsibilities as well as the site safety rules, restricted areas, chemical hazards, and basic emergency evacuation responses. When working long term with contractors and suppliers, it’s helpful to build a collaborative relationship where both external contractors/suppliers are actively promoting chemical safety at the worksite.

NOTE: In many instances contractors and subbies are considered ‘workers’ and have the same level of WHS responsibility as site employees.

Next Steps

Hazardous chemical safety is no-one’s single responsibility, everyone plays a role to get your workplace safe and compliant. Are you ready to play your part? To help you meet your obligations and fulfil your WHS duties we’ve created an informative eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It details the risk management process and teaches you how to identify and assess chemical hazards. Download and read it today.

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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