In Australia there a number of hazardous chemicals that are considered so dangerous to human health their use, handling, and storage at worksites is prohibited. Additionally, there are other dangerous substances that have restrictions placed on their use (identified in the WHS Regulations). This blog looks at prohibited and restricted chemicals (carcinogens in particular): how to identify them; why they’re restricted; and the steps that should be taken to keep your business or undertaking 100% safety compliant.
Using carcinogens in the workplace
Carcinogens are materials or substances that can cause cancer. And one of the biggest problem with carcinogenic chemicals is determining the actual danger to workers. Unlike other toxic health hazards, the effect of carcinogens on a worker’s health may take many years to develop — and there may be no early warning signal of a future health problem. The cancer may not develop for years after the exposure stops.
Because of this, the WHS Regulations in Australia have a number of specific requirements if you work with carcinogens including an official list of carcinogenic substances that are prohibited from use (except for genuine research and analysis purposes). This means that if you were to use them for industrial, manufacturing, or construction works (or even have them on your worksite) you would be breaking the law.
Prohibited carcinogens are listed in Schedule 10.1 of the WHS Regulation, which also defines the minimum concentration when in solid, liquid or gas form. The substances are:
Benzidine [92-87-5] and its salts (including benzidine dihydrochloride [531-85-1])
bis(Chloromethyl) ether [542-88-1]
Chloromethyl methyl ether [107-30-2] (technical grade which contains bis(chloromethyl) ether)
4-Dimethylaminoazobenzene [60-11-7] (Dimethyl Yellow)
2-Naphthylamine [91-59-8] and its salts
You need official permission from the Regulator in your state or territory if you want to use these chemicals to conduct research or analysis (eg, Safe Work NSW is the Regulator in NSW).
IMPORTANT: This list was current as at December 2018, but you should always check the most current release of the WHS Regulation for updates or changes.
Prohibited carcinogens are listed in Schedule 10.2 of the WHS Regulation, which also defines the minimum concentrations as well as the ways that the chemicals may be used (once authorised). For example Ethylene dibromide [106-93-4] can be authorised for use as a fumigant as well as for genuine research and analysis.
TIP: Download the WHS Regulations from the Safe Work Australia website to view the full list of restricted carcinogens and how to obtain permission to use them.
Working with prohibited and restricted carcinogens
If you are granted permission to use a prohibited or restricted carcinogen you have an additional set of obligations under the WHS Regulations to ensure the safety of your workers. These include:
Keeping detailed records (for at least 30 years) of the workers likely to be exposed to the substance.
Monitoring the health of exposed workers
Providing a written statement to affected workers at the end of their employment. This written statement must include: name of carcinogen; details of possible chemical exposure; how to obtain records of exposure; relevant health assessments and tests.
IMPORTANT: You have a duty to assess the risk of exposure to any carcinogens present at your workplace (whether or not they are prohibited or restricted). Don’t forget that some carcinogens occur as a by-product of a work process like (diesel exhaust and wood dust) and may not be easy to identify.
Getting approval to use prohibited or restricted carcinogens
The only legal way to use prohibited or restricted carcinogens in your workplace is the get written authorisation from the Regulator in your state or territory. The application must be made in writing and many of the state Regulators have a standardised form on their website (eg, SafeWork NSW).
You will need to provide:
Name of the PCUB, address of the business and official business name
All addresses where the carcinogen will be used, handled, and stored
Name of the carcinogen including numeric identifiers
How much of the carcinogen will be used, handled, and stored each year
How will the carcinogen be used and what purpose will it fulfil
How many workers will be exposed
Full outline of risk management procedures including: hazard identification, assessment, and control. You’ll need to specify why you couldn’t eliminate or substitute the carcinogen for another substance.
NOTE: The Regulator may request further information during the application and review process and may impose additional conditions when using the substance.
Your authorisation to use a prohibited for restricted carcinogen may be cancelled at any time without warning. This will occur if you do not comply with the conditions of the authorisation or the risk to the health and safety of your workers changes: new information might be discovered about the carcinogen or changes to operations at your workplace may increase exposure levels.
Other restricted hazardous chemicals in Australia
There are also a large number of hazardous chemicals identified in the WHS Regulations that have restrictions imposed on their usage in the workplace. You will find the full list in Schedule 10.3 of the Regulation. Many of these restricted hazard chemicals contain arsenic and are usually highly toxic. The Regulation identifies the only purposes that these restricted hazardous chemicals are allowed to be used for.
IMPORTANT: Though you do not require written permission to use the restricted hazardous chemicals you will be in breach of Australian safety legislation if you use the chemicals for purposes outside the restrictions outlined in the Regulation. This can attract fines of up to $100,000.
To learn exactly how to undertake a full risk assessment on the hazardous chemicals used, handled or stored at your worksite, download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s a valuable asset for WHS Managers and Supervisors needing to get the workplace 100% safety compliant. Download it today by clicking on the image below: