Health and physical hazards
Hazardous chemicals can:
- cause health problems if you inhale them, touch them or swallow them (for example, for example, if your hands come into contact with lead and then you eat, drink or smoke)
- create cause physical hazards such as injury or property damage by being flammable, corrosive or reactive.
Knowing how to use, manage, transport and store chemicals is important to keep you, your workplace and even your surrounding community safe.
If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the risks to health and safety associated with using, handling, generating and storing hazardous chemicals at a workplace. This includes by:
- providing your workers with information, training, instruction and supervision
- maintaining a register of hazardous chemicals
- obtaining the current safety data sheet (SDS) of each hazardous chemical (usually from your supplier) and making them readily available to your workers
- ensuring containers are correctly labelled, and safety signs are displayed
- identifying the risks of chemicals being used, and controlling those risks in the most appropriate manner
- providing health monitoring to workers, where relevant
- preparing an emergency plan, and providing safety and emergency equipment.
Safety data sheets (SDS)
An SDS provides critical information about hazardous chemicals, including:
- the chemical’s identity and ingredients
- health and physical hazards
- safe handling and storage procedures
- emergency procedures
- safe disposal.
If the SDS for a hazardous chemical is not supplied with the chemical, you must contact either the manufacturer, importer or supplier to obtain one before the chemical is used at your workplace.
You must ensure the current SDS is readily accessible to:
- workers who use, handle or store the hazardous chemical at the workplace
- emergency service workers
- anyone else who is likely to be exposed to the hazardous chemical.
You should keep the SDS in a location near the work area where the substance is used, in a form that can be quickly and easily accessed.
You must make sure workers and anyone else likely to be exposed to the hazardous chemical know how to find the SDS.
If you find a container without a label or without the correct label, you must fix this and correctly label the container.
Containers that have had chemicals transferred or decanted into them (decanted) and containers of chemical wastes must be also labelled correctly.
If you don’t know what the contents of the container are, you should:
- clearly mark this on the container: for example, ‘Caution — do not use — unknown substance’
- store it in isolation until its contents can be identified and, if it is then found to be hazardous, the container can be appropriately labelled. If you can’t identify the contents, you should dispose of it in accordance with relevant local waste management requirements. Contact your local council or waste transfer station for advice.
You should do a risk assessment for the chemicals at your workplace, to:
- identify which workers are at risk of exposure
- determine what sources and processes are causing that risk
- determine how likely it is that an injury, illness or incident will occur, how serious it would be
- identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented
- check the effectiveness of your existing control measures.
You must always aim to remove a chemical hazard and associated risk from your workplace first. If this is not reasonably practicable, you must reduce the risk by using one or more of the following approaches:
- substitution: for example, with a less toxic or flammable chemical
- isolation: for example, placing a process (or a part of it) within an enclosure (which may also be fitted with exhaust extraction to remove contaminants)
- implementing engineering controls: for example, using fully enclosed betilation booths.
If a risk then remains, you must reduce it by implementing administrative controls (for example, job rotation and safe work procedures), so far as is reasonably practicable. Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).
In addition to your general duty to provide workers with the work health and safety training and supervision they need to be safe at work, as a PCBU you have specific training, information and supervision duties around hazardous chemicals. This is to protect any workers who:
- use, handle, generate or store a hazardous chemical
- operate, test, maintain, repair or decommission a storage or handling system for a hazardous chemical, or
- are likely to be exposed to a hazardous chemical.
You must also provide this to other people at your workplace, such as contractors and visitors.