Who could be exposed to hazardous chemicals at your job site?

Jan 17, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

A chemical risk assessment is an evaluation of the way the chemicals, substances and materials carried at your workplace could cause harm. This blog will help you identify all the parties who could be exposed to hazardous chemicals and other Dangerous Goods at your job site: it’s a key step in your risk assessment process and essential to achieving 100% chemical safety compliance.

Step 1: Identify the chemicals and their form

Get started by identifying each of the hazardous chemicals from the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Each SDS will list the chemical’s form (liquid, solid, gas etc) as well as the chemical and physical properties. You’ll also need to consider the hazardous substances generated in the workplace, think wood dust, welding fume, and sewerage. For some of the workplace generated substances there will be no SDS so you’ll need to consider the form of the substance to determine how it could get into a person’s body and cause harm.

REMEMBER: Some materials and substances are almost harmless in their original form (eg, a block of wood, or a piece of metal) but change during work processes and become hazardous chemicals (wood dust or welding fume).

Step 2: List each ‘route of exposure’

People become sick, injured or die when their bodies are exposed to hazardous chemicals and the substances end up in their bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream a chemical can penetrate major organs or damage the reproductive, nervous and respiratory systems. Your next step will be to determine how each of the chemicals could affect your workers by looking at how they could be absorbed by the body.

There are four possible routes of exposure:

  1. Inhalation: Breathing in air-borne chemicals is the most common way hazardous substances enter the body. Which of your chemicals are the form of smoke, mists, gases, vapours, fumes, fibres, powders, and dusts? Do the chemicals have a workplace exposure standard?

  2. Ingestion: Swallowing liquid chemicals can occur when containers are incorrectly labelled or when hands, food, drinks, beards, cigarettes, and utensils are contaminated. There have also been documented workplace accidents where workers have died after accidentally swallowing acid following a burst chemical pipe. Look for chemicals in liquid form, as well as mists and dust particles that could settle and contaminate work areas.

  3. Absorption: When chemicals are in liquid form they can be splashed onto skin and eyes, or get under the fingernails. Some chemicals soften the external layer of skin, which allows the substance to pass through the soft tissue into the bloodstream. Other chemicals enter the body through cuts and abrasions - even through a hair shaft. Corrosive chemicals burn a hole in the skin and leave the body vulnerable to infection and further chemical absorption. Workers have died after falling into vats of chemicals.

  4. Injection: When a sharp object punctures the skin chemicals can be directly injected into the bloodstream. The most obvious method is via a syringe but this can also happen accidentally during work processes that cut and puncture holes.

IMPORTANT: Some chemicals in solid form (as well as certain vapours) can be absorbed through the skin if they are dissolved in moisture on the skin's surface. Always check your SDS for details about the different forms a chemical may take.

Step 3: Evaluate work processes and who performs them

Once you understand the different ways each of the chemicals used at the worksite are able to penetrate the human body, you can begin to evaluate the different work processes and who performs them.

Site employees and contractors

Start with the employees and contracts who use the chemicals everyday or are working in areas that have airborne concentrations of chemicals in their breathing zones.

Examples include:

  • Manufacturing staff using chemicals as raw materials in production processes

  • Maintenance staff using chemicals to do repairs

  • Trade contractors installing equipment and machinery

  • Forklift drivers moving packaged chemicals around the job site and into storage areas

  • Cleaning staff decanting chemicals from IBCs into portable containers

  • Truck drivers and heavy machinery operators filling their vehicles from bulk fuel tanks

  • Warehouse exposed to vehicle emissions while processing sales orders and loading trucks

  • Laboratory staff mixing and measuring chemicals during experiments and testing

  • New workers and contractors attending a site induction

Management, administration and non-operational staff

How often are administration staff or senior managers present in manufacturing, construction, or other industrial areas of the job site? Are there any circumstances in their own work areas where they could be exposed to hazardous chemicals?

Examples include:

  • Accounting staff chasing invoices or assisting with stocktaking

  • Administration staff delivering messages, workplace documents, and payslips

  • Management doing a daily site inspection and meeting with supervisors

  • Senior Management attending a Safety Meeting

  • Marketing teams taking photos or shooting a promo video

IMPORTANT: You also need to evaluate how the entire site could be affected by a fires, explosions or chemical reactions. Consider a documented example of a chlorine gas bottle explosion in a workshop that also killed administration staff and customers.

Customers, suppliers, and other site visitors

What types of industry professionals are likely to visit your worksite? How often? How long will they stay? Will any of the work areas they visit have hazardous chemicals? Who else might turn up?

Examples include:

  • Delivery drivers dropping off raw materials, equipment, and goods for resale

  • Supplier representatives selling products and services

  • Customers picking up their order

  • Government inspectors auditing the site for compliance

  • Industry and Union representatives visiting the site for a meeting

  • Media chasing a story

  • Job applicants attending an interview

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to consider how the chemicals could affect wildlife, plants, livestock, crops, agricultural lands, neighbouring businesses and the environment as a whole.

Next steps

Now that you’ve identified everyone who could be harmed by the hazardous chemicals at your workplace, would you like to know exactly how to implement a full risk management methodology? Just download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace for full set of guidelines — including our custom designed WHS tools and templates. Download and read it today for 100% chemical safety compliance.

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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