How to structure a chemical risk assessment

Originally published January 14, 2019 09:58:34 PM, updated August 17, 2020

Carrying out a risk assessment on all the hazardous chemicals used, stored, handled, and generated at your workplace can seem like an overwhelming task. Especially if the job site carries a complex mix of Dangerous Goods including flammables, explosives, and reactive substances. This blog will help you simplify the process by breaking down a risk assessment into smaller, more manageable segments.

STEP 1: Divide up the workplace

If you’re workplace is too large to be assessed as a whole we suggest beginning your risk assessment by dividing it up into smaller sections. Depending on the way your operations are managed this could be done by grouping the risk assessment by:

a) Physical Location

Carrying out a risk assessment at each physical location can be useful at work sites that have a very clear separation of work areas and generate unique departmental hazards. A generic example of this would be a flour milling plant that is divided into clear departmental areas with very little overlapping of staff outside their physical work zones. These would include:

  • grain storage and raw materials intake

  • milling production area with bulk distribution points

  • warehouse for packing, storage, and distribution

  • administration building and laboratory

  • maintenance workshop and spare parts/supplies stores

  • weighbridge and site entry points

A risk assessment could be conducted in each departmental area, identifying each of the chemicals used or store there, and assessing how the workers in the area are exposed or effected by the hazardous substances.

Example: Warehouse staff are consistently exposed to diesel emissions as trucks enter the building for loading. Forklifts loading pallets also produce emissions. Other staff irregularly visit the warehouse and it’s only for short periods.

b) Work Groups

Workplaces that don’t have clear physical work zones or departmental areas might conduct risk assessments within similar work groups. Especially if it can be established that chemical exposure is representative of their entire work group. This would be especially useful for:

  • Cleaning or maintenance staff whose work takes them into all areas of the job site

  • Workgroups who rotate in different areas of the job site according to shift patterns

  • Seasonal, remote, and offshore workers

  • Workers using known carcinogens or other substances that require ongoing health monitoring

Example: The painting crew are consistently exposed to paints and solvents through both inhalation and skin contact. Many of the paints and solvents are also flammable, so there is always a risk of fire or explosion wherever they are working.

c) Chemical Groups

Risk assessments can also be conducted according to chemicals groups. Some examples include:

  • Hazard classes (eg, flammable liquids, compressed gases, explosives, toxic substances)

  • Usage (eg, spray paints, solvents, glues and adhesives, pesticides)

  • Storage/Handling (eg, bulk stores, package stores, decanting stations)

Example: Empty gas bottles are frequently left unattended in the work areas where they were used. It is often several days before they are returned to the gas bottle stores. Several holding straps in the main LPG store are broken and don’t hold the cylinders in place.

Step 2: Examine work practices and conditions

Once you’ve segmented the workplace you’ll need to consult with the workers and contractors in who work in these areas to obtain a full list of substances and the way they are being used. This process also involves observing staff on the job and speaking with supervisors.

Example: Workers changing LPG tanks on the forklifts are only wearing cotton gloves (or none at all) instead of thermal protection gloves.

It’s important to note when workers aren’t strictly adhering to operating procedures when performing certain tasks. You may discover that the operating procedure itself is creating an additional hazard because it is inefficient or the PPE assigned for the task is difficult to use, bulky, or broken.

Chemical hazards can also arise during scheduled maintenance, equipment breakdowns, power outages, cleaning, and staff absences. These should also be factored into your risk assessment.

Example: Whenever Manager X is on days off or annual leave workers cannot access the Register of Hazardous Chemicals, First Aid kits, and some PPE. These items are kept in locked cabinets and they key is always with the manager.

Step 3: Sourcing other information

Your risk assessment should also take a wider look into the workplace by examining incident, accident, and sick leave reports that may have information about chemical spills, fires, illnesses, injuries, and near misses. Examples include:

  • Sick leave records can indicate a chemical accident, fire or exposure that was never officially reported.

  • Safety meeting minutes can expose a chemical hazard reported by a worker but never followed up.

  • Supplier invoices with out-of-sequence purchases of chemicals, first aid supplies, or fire protection equipment can indicate unreported chemical spills or accidental releases.

  • Recurring accidents involving the same employee (or the same department) can indicate training inadequacies or slack supervisors.

Next Steps

Conducting a chemical risk assessment is only one step in the entire risk management process. We encourage you to download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace to gain a better understanding of chemical hazards and the way they need to be managed. Download and read it today to get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant.

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

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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