Hazardous Chemicals

There are currently around 39, 000 industrial chemicals and around 5,500 agricultural and veterinary chemicals in use in Australia, many of which are considered hazardous according to the definitions in the NSW OHS Regulation 2001.

IT’S THE LAW!

Under the NSW workplace safety laws employer must obtain and provide information to all their employees on all chemicals used in the work place. This information must include the health effects and what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be used. These information sheets are called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

Under the NSW OHS Regulation 2001 – Clause 51 states that the employer must ensure that no person at a place of work is exposed to an airborne concentration of an atmospheric contaminant that exceeds or breeches a standard referred to on page 5 of this fact sheet.

Clause 163 of the NSW OHS regulation states that the employer must ensure that labels are provide on every single substance/chemical in the workplace, even if it is decanted.

The Hazardous Substances Regulation requires employers (and the self-employed) to control exposure to ensure that the exposure of an employee, or other persons at the workplace to hazardous substances is prevented, or if that is not practicable, minimised.

The Pesticides Act 1999 sets requirements relating to the supply, use and possession of pesticides and fumigants.

HEALTH EFFECTS

Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause serious health and safety risks to people at work. Toxic chemicals can cause diseases in humans if they are swallowed or contact the skin or if vapors are inhaled.

CHEMICALS, WHAT ARE THEY?

There are currently around 39, 000 industrial chemicals and around 5,500 agricultural and veterinary chemicals in use in Australia.

WorkCover NSW has produced a Code of practice for dealing with Hazardous Substances. It is called the Code of Practice for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances.

Employers must obtain and provide information to all their employees on all chemicals used in the work place. This information must include the health effects and what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be used. These information sheets are called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEETS (MSDS)

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provide information on hazardous substances additional to that on a label. Ways of controlling exposure and exposure standards can also be found in the MSDS. An MSDS for a substance provides information on:

  • Identification
  • Health hazard information
  • Precautions for use at application strength, including the exposure standard
  • Safe storage and handling information
  • All the hazardous ingredients, not just the “active constituent”
  • Where a chemical may release another hazardous substance during normal use such as when reacting with other common materials or when heated
  • Emergency procedures

EMPLOYER’S OBLIGATIONS

All employers are required to identify all workplace risks and put in place control measures to eliminate or reduce the risks.

Chemical hazards in the workplace can be identified from the label on containers and the MSDS for the chemicals supplied. Hazards created by work, such as the generation of fumes or dust, may not be covered by an MSDS and so other relevant information should be sought. Examples of where this may be an issue are welding, cutting, or grinding.

Information should be obtained about health effects, precautions for use and safe handling. Seek advice from an expert or authority such as WorkCover. If you undertake work such as essential oil distillation is, then you take on the manufacturer’s legal obligations to produce an MSDS.

EMPLOYER DUTIES

MSDS must be made available to employees who may be exposed to the chemical in use.

Employers must ensure that an MSDS is available for each hazardous substance used by each employee. This access may be required:

  • During training (including induction)
  • During consultation before the introduction of a new substance
  • When an employee is working with or near the chemical.

At each work site or designated work area, where hazardous substances are stored or mixed, ensure that:

  • Employees have easy access to an MSDS for each substance stored or used
  • The most recent edition of the MSDS is available (check every five years)
  • Any information retrieval system for MSDS is kept in working order
  • Employees are trained on how to access and understand the information.

LABELS

Clause 163 of the NSW OHS regulation states that the employer must ensure that labels are provide on all chemicals.

Often chemicals are supplied in large containers, they are too large and awkward to use therefore these are often poured (decanted) into a smaller container. The purpose of labeling is to ensure correct identification, use and disposal of the chemicals in a container. Labels must be kept fixed to the container at all times, including containers in which chemicals are decanted into.

Hazardous substances, dangerous goods and poisons, all have similar labeling provisions. Chemical labels show the active ingredients and indicate other hazardous or dangerous ingredients (e.g. by showing the dangerous goods “diamond” symbol). Some containers of Chemicals have labels that contain extensive information in booklet form that is inserted into an envelope or pocket on the container. These booklets should be returned to the envelope or pocket after use for future reference. Some gas cylinders have tags, which display the relevant information.

DESCRIPTION OF LABEL ITEMS FOR HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES

Signal words, dangerous goods class and subsidiary risk labels

Signal Words are words prominently displayed on labels to indicate the relative degree of severity of a hazard.

Class labels illustrate the class allocated to dangerous goods and indicate the major hazard posed by a substance.

Dangerous goods legislation requires that the dangerous goods class and subsidiary risk labels always are assigned according to the Australian Dangerous Goods Code.

Similarly, poisons legislation in all States and Territories require that if a substance is scheduled by the SUSDP, then the signal words: ‘WARNING’, ‘POISON’ and ‘DANGEROUS POISON’ should always be assigned.

Where a hazardous substance is not designed as a dangerous good and it is not scheduled by the SUSDP, then the word ‘HAZARDOUS’ should be used.

The signal word ‘HAZARDOUS’ should be clearly shown on a contrasting background (preferably in red on a white background) and in a prominent position on the label. The height of the signal word should be at least twice the height of the general text and not less than quarter the height of the largest letter.

LABELS FOR DECANTED SUBSTANCES

The practice of decanting (see above) is widespread in many industries. Minimum requirements for the labeling of decanted hazardous substances are contained in the Hazardous Substances Regulation. All hazardous substances, which are decanted and are not consumed immediately, must be labelled with the product name and the risk and safety phrases.

Where a decanted substance is consumed immediately, no labeling is required. A container must remain correctly labelled until cleaned so that it no longer contains any hazardous substance.

OBLIGATION OF MANUFACTURERS AND SUPPLIERS

A supplier must provide an MSDS for each hazardous substance on request and for the first supply as stated by clause 155 of the NSW OH&S Regulation 2001. Retailers, such as hardware stores and supermarkets, are not required by law to provide MSDS, since they are not included in the definition of a supplier.

Resellers such as a person who supplies to trade only are not retailers and so must provide MSDS. Trade sales include substances intended solely for use in workplaces, and so MSDS must be provided on request.

Manufacturer to Disclose Ingredients to Medical Practitioner

If an MSDS or label does not disclose the chemical name of an ingredient of a hazardous substance, the manufacturer of the hazardous substance must disclose the chemical identity of the ingredient to any medical practitioner who applies to the manufacturer for the disclosure of that information for the purpose of emergency medical treatment.

For example, if a worker was to become sick on a work site due to chemical exposure and was taken to hospital, the medical practitioner must be able to ring the manufacturer and find out the exact ingredients in the chemical they were exposed to, to help in treatment.

EXPOSURE STANDARDS AND AIR MONITORING

The Hazardous Substances Regulation requires employers (and the self-employed) to control exposure to ensure that the exposure of an employee, or other persons at the workplace to hazardous substances is prevented, or if that is not practicable, minimised.

Clause 51of the NSW OHS Regulation states that the employer must ensure that no person at a place of work is exposed to an airborne concentration of an atmospheric contaminant that exceeds or breeches a standard referred to in the Worksafe Australia publication Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment. This is relevant where inhalation is the main route of entry. The exposure standard is also given in the MSDS, if a standard has been allocated.

Not all hazardous substances have an exposure standard. It may relate to an individual component of the spray mixture such as the solvent or surfactant. Exposure standards are of most relevance to those workers who use chemicals regularly and continuously as part of their daily duties (including contractors).

If spraying produces particles in the air, like vapours or aerosols, then when doing a risk assessment it may be appropriate to assume that the airborne exposure standard is likely to be exceeded and that control measures such as respirators or other PPE are necessary. For chemicals used in agriculture, strict compliance with the safety directions on the label and MSDS will normally ensure that exposure is sufficiently controlled so that exact volume measurement will not be necessary.

If there is uncertainty about risks, it may be necessary to measure airborne concentrations and compare these with the mandatory exposure standards. This may be useful for fixed locations such as indoors or situations of off-label use. Care must be taken when applying these to outdoor situations where conditions are variable, such as changes in the wind.

Your union will be able to assist you in measuring chemical concentrations.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) FOR EXPOSURE TO CHEMICALS

PPE should only be relied upon where it is not possible to control exposure by one or more of the above measures. PPE should be used:

  • According to instructions on the label and the MSDS
  • In an open field situation where engineering controls are not available;
  • When mixing, decanting or spraying;
  • In some circumstances as a back up for other control measures.

Selection, Use and Maintenance Of Personal Protective Equipment

Employers should ensure that:

  • All PPE is appropriate for the task;
  • All PPE is suitable for the wearer;
  • PPE is readily available, clean and in fully operational condition;
  • Employees are trained in the use of the PPE, including the selection and maintenance (and where appropriate when to discard disposable PPE);
  • Employees wear the PPE as intended

RESPIRATOR CHECKLIST

a copy of the respirator checklist is available by downloading the Word Document version of this Fact Sheet. (see link below)

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

a copy of the Personal Protective Equipment checklist is available by downloading the Word Document version of this Fact Sheet. (see link below)

CHEMICAL SAFETY FOR FOOD WORKERS

Today many people work in the preparation and service of food in hotels, restaurants and fast food outlets. Others work in catering facilities, commercial kitchens and other food service facilities, such as those in hospitals or schools.

There are a number of chemicals, which these workers may come into contact with, for example, cleaning agents such as oven cleaners and detergents. Contact with some of these chemicals can result in adverse health effects such as burns, irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, skin problems such as dermatitis and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Some of the chemicals that food service workers commonly use are listed below with their possible health effects. (Read the label in your product to check the chemical ingredients).

Product CHEMICAL INGREDIENTS Potential health effects

Oven cleaners sodium hydroxide

(caustic soda);

ethanolamine;

diethylene glycol; Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation

Skin burns from concentrated solution

Dermatitis from repeated contact

Floor cleaners

Dishwasher soap quarternary ammoniums

alkaline salts Skin burns

Dermatitis

Corrosive irritation to eyes, respiratory tract and skin

Degreasers various organic solvents Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation

Headaches, nausea and dizziness

Bleach sodium hypochlorite

(can release chlorine gas) Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation

Burns

Skin allergy

Gas is a severe irritant

CHECKLISTS

Click on the link below to download a Word Document version of this Fact Sheet that contains checklists to assist with a risk assessment on hazardous chemicals in your workplace. They cover training and industry risks.

More info:

Download the Hazardous Chemicals Fact Sheet

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