Using a risk management methodology to manage risks associated with hazardous chemicals

Mar 14, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

A chemical risk management methodology is a systemised approach to minimising (or completely eliminating) the harm caused by hazardous chemicals at your workplace. In this blog we’ll walk  you through four essential steps which quickly show you you how the methodology works to get your workplace or job site safe and compliant.

Introducing a risk management methodology into your workplace can help you:

  • Ensure your staff are working within safe chemical exposure limits

  • Prevent flammable liquids causing or contributing to a fire

  • Get your gas cylinder storage areas 100% compliant with WHS Regulations

  • Decide on the most suitable PPE to use when handling a toxic substance

  • Completely eliminate a hazardous chemical from the job site

IMPORTANT: Using the STOREMASTA 4-step methodology for risk management ensures that all hazardous substances are identified; every chemical hazard is assessed and prioritised; each hazard is either eliminated or controlled; and safety compliance is sustained through regular audits, maintenance and reviews.

STEP 1: Identifying chemical hazards

Risk management begins by identifying all the hazardous substances you have on your premises. You’ll probably need to walk around the workplace and physically identify everywhere hazardous chemicals are stored or used. At the same time you’ll need to list the chemical hazards present in that work area.

Use the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) to determine both the physical and health hazards of the chemicals as follows:

  • Physical Hazards - are the physical properties of the chemical that can immediately cause the death or injury to your workers, damage property; or harm the environment (ie, they are flammable, explosive, self-reactive).

  • Health Hazards - are the chemical properties of the substance that are dangerous to humans, other organisms, and the environment (ie, they are toxic, corrosive, carcinogenic).

STEP 2: Assessing the risks of using hazardous chemicals

Once you have a full list of all the hazardous chemicals onsite, where they are located, and their physical + health hazards you can begin to assess just how much harm they could actually cause in your workplace. This assessment phase will have you considering:

  1. What dangerous events or workplace accidents could occur? Eg, gas bottle explodes after falling over and breaking the valve;  worker drops a drum of lubricant and it spills onto the floor of the workshop near the MIG welder; delivery truck accidentally hits and penetrates a flammable liquids store located near the entrance to the warehouse.

  2. How frequently could each of these dangerous events occur? Eg, every shift, once a week on maintenance days, once a month on delivery days, once a year in cyclone season.

  3. What are consequences of each dangerous event? Eg, fatalities, fires, property damage, chemical leak to adjacent waterways, worker develops cancer.

The STOREMASTA chemical risk management methodology assigns a risk score out of 10 to each dangerous event. This is based on the severity of the outcome and the likelihood of the incident occurring. The higher the risk score, the greater priority given to the hazard.

REMEMBER: When listing potentially dangerous events, you need to consider how seemingly unrelated events/issues/conditions could affect your hazardous chemicals. For example: dangerous goods kept onsite; adverse weather situations (floods, cyclones, heatwaves, bushfires); unplanned equipment failure (breakdowns, blackouts, mobile signal outages).

STEP 3: Eliminating and controlling chemical hazards

In Step 3 you will be deciding on suitable control measures for each of the hazards — and prioritising their implementation according to the risk score. Your risk management methodology will follow the Hierarchy of Controls and assign the most effective control measure to (ideally) eliminate or minimise the harm associated with each chemical hazard.

The Hierarchy of Controls works as follows:

Order Action Description/Example
1st  Eliminate Remove the chemical from your worksite completely eg, to remove acetylene gas bottles order your materials from an offsite metal fabrication company.
2nd  Substitute Substitute the chemical for something less harmful eg, use a fuel with a lower flashpoint and explosive range.
3rd  Isolate/Engineer Make changes to the physical layout of the workplace or introduce equipment that isolates workers from the hazard eg, erecting an outdoor flammable liquids store away from central work areas.
4th  Administrate Implement administrative controls and safe operating procedures eg, introduce a safety induction program and refresher training for construction contractors
5th  PPE Use personal protective equipment (PPE) to create a physical barrier between workers and the chemicals eg, staff wearing chemical resistant gloves, face shields, and protective clothing while decanting corrosive chemicals.

 

ESSENTIAL: When deciding on chemical control measures it’s very important to involve the workers who will actually carry out work, because it is their health and safety which will be directly affected by your decision.

STEP 4: Sustaining chemical compliance with regular reviews

Once you have implemented all your control measures, to sustain compliance you now need to return to Step 1 and identify if any new hazards that have been introduced to the workplace. Sometimes a control measure will introduce a new hazard (especially if you are substituting chemicals or decide to use PPE).

Here in Step 4 you will also be putting systems into place for enabling:

  • Routine maintenance

  • Regular safety inspections on your chemical stores

  • Health monitoring of workers

  • Periodic risk assessments as new chemicals are introduced or removed from the worksite

You may also consider engaging external auditors and WHS consultants to review your control measures and provide advice for ongoing safety and compliance. An external assessment conducted at least once a year would ensure that your storage systems and facilities comply with Australian Safety Standards and WHS Regulations.

Next Steps

This blog has given you a quick introduction to the risk management process, but you’ll find more comprehensive instructions in our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. Download and read it today to learn how to manage and control chemical risks at your own workplace.

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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