Information on hazardous substances
The following information is about substances that meet the definition of 'hazardous substances' in the OSH regulations 1996, which is explained below. There are also requirements for ensuring the safety with other chemicals at the workplace and these are outlined under Chemical control and Safety priorities for working with hazardous substances.
- What are the recent changes in the legislation for 'hazardous substances'?
- What is the definition of a ‘hazardous substance’?
- What do manufacturers and importers of a ‘hazardous substance’ need to do?
- How do I classify a substance as a ‘hazardous substance’?
- What is a MSDS?
- What are the importers and manufacturers’ obligations for MSDS?
- How do I write a MSDS?
- How often should I update my MSDS?
- What are the requirements for labelling a ‘hazardous substance’?
- How do I know if a substance I have purchased for use at work is a ‘hazardous substance’ or not?
- How do I know if a substance I have purchased for use at work is a ‘hazardous substance’ or not?
- Who can do a ‘hazardous substances’ risk assessment?
- How do I do a ‘hazardous substances’ risk assessment?
- What are exposure standards and where are they listed?
- What is a ‘hazardous substances register’?
- Are ‘hazardous substances’ and ‘dangerous goods’ the same thing?
- Is a ‘hazardous substances’ register the same as a ‘dangerous goods’ manifest?
- How do I know I have asbestos containing material?
- Does all spray painting have to be carried out in a booth?
- Are there any other requirements for spray painting that I need to be aware of?
- Can WorkSafe measure the levels of airborne chemical contaminants in my workplace?
- How do I know if I need to measure the levels of chemicals in air at my workplace?
- I have a flammable liquid storage cabinet at my workplace, what do I need to know to use it safely?
- What quantity of flammable liquid requires a flammable liquid cabinet?
- What is health surveillance?
- How can health surveillance protect employees in the workplace?
- Who should have health surveillance?
- How often should health surveillance be undertaken?
- How is the risk of exposure assessed?
- Who is responsible for arranging health surveillance?
- Who can be an Appointed Medical Practitioner?
- What is the role of an Appointed Medical Practitioner (AMP)?
- What happens if an employee has been removed from further work exposure?
There are now two options for importers and manufacturers of ‘hazardous substances’ in relation to their classification and labelling. They can use the original system for classifying and labelling hazardous substances, renamed as the ‘AC classification system’, or the new international system, called the ‘GHS classification system’.
In particular, the OSH regulations 1996 have been amended:
to allow the import of ‘hazardous substances’ that have been classified and labelled in accordance with the GHS classification system (explained below);
to allow local manufacturers of ‘hazardous substances’ the choice of classifying and labelling them in accordance with the GHS classification system (explained below); and
to require that, when manufacturers or importers classify and label a ‘hazardous substance’ according to the GHS classification system, they must disclose in its material safety data sheets (MSDS) the chemical names of the Type 1, Type II and Type III ingredients according to new definitions in Schedule 5.1 of the OSH regulations 1996.
For users of ‘hazardous substances’ at the workplace and suppliers, the changes will mean that you may see different types of labels on the containers and different risks and safety phrases in the MSDS.
Some of the requirements in the OSH regulations 1996 for manufacturers, importers, employers, self-employed people and main contractors in relation to hazardous substances are outlined below. For the full set of requirements, see Part 5 of the OSH regulations 1996.
Under the OSH Regulations 1996, a substance is a ‘hazardous substance’ if it meets criteria under:
the original system in the OSH regulations 1996, now called ‘the AC classification system’; or
an international system called, ‘the GHS classification system’.
The above two classification systems are based on the harmful effects of substances on people.
‘Hazardous substances’ come in different forms. They may be a liquid or solid substance, dust or a vapour. Examples are poisons and substances that could cause burns, an eye irritation or cancer.
i. Under the AC classification system, a substance is a ‘hazardous substance’ if:
any of its ingredients is entered in the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database at concentrations above the cut-off concentration; or
it meets the criteria in the document, Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC: 1008 (2004)].
ii. Under the GHS classification system (also called the GHS or the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals 3rd revised edition), a substance is a ‘hazardous substance’ if it meets any of the criteria in this system.
If a substance meets any of the above definitions and is therefore a ‘hazardous substance’, there are specific requirements under the OSH regulations 1996 for:
the people who intend to manufacture or import it; and
the employer, main contractor or self-employed person in relation to its use at the workplace.
Some of the requirements in the OSH regulations 1996 are outlined below. You could also look at Part 5 of the OSH regulations to see all the specific regulations.
Manufacturers and importers must:
before manufacturing or importing an ‘AC classified hazardous substance’ (see above) that is not listed in the Hazardous Substance Information System (HSIS) database, notify the WorkSafe Western Australia Commissioner;
before the hazardous substance is supplied to workplaces, prepare a MSDS (see below) and ensure it is available;
review and revise the MSDS as often as necessary to keep it up to date and at least every five years; and
meet the OSH regulations 1996 requirements for labelling the container (see below).
You are only required to classify a substance as a ‘hazardous substance’ if you are the manufacturer or importer of it into WA and the substance is intended for use in a workplace. This must be done before manufacture or import to determine if the substance is a ‘hazardous substance’ because, if it is one, there will be requirements for manufacturers and importers under the OSH regulations 1996 to be met (see above).
You can classify a substance by:
(i) under the AC classification system:
checking if any of its ingredients is entered in the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database at concentrations above the cut-off concentration; or
checking if it meets the criteria in the document, Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC: 1008 (2004)]; or
(ii) under the GHS classification system
(also called the GHS or the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals 3rd revised edition), checking to see if meets any of the criteria in this system.
Where a substance does meet the above criteria under either the AC classification system or the GHS classification system, then it is a ‘hazardous substance’ and you will have to meet the requirements outlined above for manufacturers and importers.
You could choose to use a consultant to assist you in conducting the classification.
Note that, where you intend to manufacture or import a substance that meets the AC classification (see above) that is not listed in the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database then you must notify the WorkSafe Western Australia Commissioner before starting the manufacture or import.
A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that provides information about a ‘hazardous substance’ and how it should be used and how to avoid harm when using it at the workplace. It must be written in English and contain the information outlined in the National Code of Practice for the Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets [NOHSC: 2011 (2003)].
For ‘hazardous substances’ classified under the GHS classification system (see above), the MSDS must contain the hazard classification, hazard statements and precautionary statements set out in the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals 3rd revised edition instead of the hazard classification, risk phrases and safety phrases set out in the National Code.
Manufacturers and importers of a ‘hazardous substance’ must prepare a MSDS for it. Employers, main contractors and self-employed do not have to do this. They should be able to obtain an MSDS from the supplier of the ‘hazardous substance’.
Manufacturers and importers of hazardous substances must also:
ensure that the MSDS for a hazardous substance is available before it is supplied to the workplace; and
review and revise MSDS at least every five years or as often as necessary to keep it up to date.
Guidance on the information required in a MSDS is given in the National Code of Practice for the Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets [NOHSC: 2011 (2003)] and the Commission guidance note, Material Safety Data Sheets.
The MSDS must include:
the chemical name of any type I ingredient in the ‘hazardous substance’;
the chemical name of any type II ingredient in the ‘hazardous substance’ or, if the identity is commercially confidential, the generic name; and
the name of any type III ingredients in the ‘hazardous substance’ except in certain circumstances – see regulation 5.5(2)(c) of the OSH regulations 1996 for more details.
For definitions of type I, type II and type III ingredients, see regulation 5.1 and Schedule 5.1 of the OSH regulations 1996. Note that there are different definitions of these ingredients according to whether it has been classified under the AC classification system or the GHS classification system.
MSDS must be updated or reviewed:
whenever there is new information on changes to hazardous properties of the product;
whenever there is a formulation change;
often enough to keep it up to date; and
at least every five years.
A supplier of a AC classified hazardous substance (see above) for use in a workplace must ensure that:
the container in which it is supplied is labelled in accordance with the relevant requirements of the National Code of Practice for the Labelling of Workplace Substances [NOHSC: 2012(1994)], which can be found under OSH Standards and Codes of Practice on the Safe Work Australia website; and
the chemical name of any type II or type II ingredient is disclosed on the label or, where the identity of a type II ingredient is commercially confidential, the generic name of that ingredient.
A supplier of a GHS classified substance for use in the workplace must ensure that any container in which the substance is supplied:
is labelled in English in accordance with the relevant requirements set out in the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals 3rd revised edition (also called the GHS); and
has a label setting out the name of the supplier and their Australian address and telephone number and emergency Australian telephone number.
10. How do I know if a substance I have purchased for use at work is a ‘hazardous substance’ or not?
The supplier should be able to provide you with a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the substance. This should contain an upfront statement like:
this product is hazardous according to the criteria of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC)/Australian Safety and Compensation Council/Safe Work Australia/WorkSafe Australia/the GHS; or
this product is not hazardous according to the criteria of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC))/Australian Safety and Compensation Council/Safe Work Australia/WorkSafe Australia/the GHS.
If the MSDS does not contain one of the above statements then signal words, such as ‘WARNING’, ‘POISON’ or ‘HAZARDOUS’, on the label would indicate that you have a ‘hazardous substance’. Similarly, information in the Health Hazards section of the material safety data sheet (MSDS) that the substance is ‘toxic’, ‘corrosive’, ‘a sensitizer’, ‘a carcinogen’, ‘a teratogen’ or ‘a mutagen’ would mean that it is probably a ‘hazardous substance’.
If you are not sure whether you have a ‘hazardous substance’ or not then contact your supplier or the manufacturer/importer and ask the question. Always request that they provide their answer in writing.
11. What are employers, self-employed people and main contractors required to do with ‘hazardous substances’ that are going to be used at work?
undertake a risk assessment for all ‘hazardous substances’ and prepare a risk assessment report (see below);
ensure no person is exposed at the workplace to a ‘hazardous substance’ above its exposure standard (see below);
keep a current ‘hazardous substances register’ of all ‘hazardous substances’ used at the workplace from time to time and ensure it is readily available (see below);
obtain from the supplier a material safety data sheet (MSDS) before or on the first occasion a ‘hazardous substance’ is supplied to the workplace;
consult with all people who might be exposed to the ‘hazardous substance’ at the workplace about the intention to use the ‘hazardous substance’ and the safest method of using it;
ensure the MSDS for each ‘hazardous substance’ is readily available to anybody at the workplace who might be exposed to it;
reduce the risks to people at the workplace that could arise from exposure to a ‘hazardous substance’ by means of prevention of exposure. To the extent that it is not practical to prevent exposure, the risks must be controlled, in the first instance, by means other than personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE). Only use PPE where prevention of exposure and control measures are not practical;
provide an induction and training to people likely to be exposed to a hazardous substance at the workplace before they start work that includes relevant and adequate information and training on:
the potential health risks and any toxic effects;
the control measures;
the correct use of methods to reduce the harmful effects of exposure;
correct care and use of PPE; and
the need for, and details of, health surveillance.
keep records of all induction and training undertaken by a person;
if the above risk assessment indicates it is needed, undertake appropriate monitoring; and
in certain situations, ensure there is health surveillance – see regulations 5.23-5.27 of the OSH regulations1996.
Any competent person can do a ‘hazardous substances’ risk assessment. Some straightforward assessments can be done in-house. Others may be more complex and you may need to engage someone with expertise such as an occupational hygienist. Consultants can be found in a telephone directory under ‘occupational health and safety’.
Some occupational hygienists are listed by the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.
The employer, main contractor and self-employed person must assess the risk of injury or harm that could occur to people as a result of being exposed to each ‘hazardous substance’ at the workplace.
The risk assessment must include, as far as practical:
identification of each ‘hazardous substance’ used at the workplace;
a review of each material safety data sheet (MSDS) for each ‘hazardous substance’ used at the workplace;
a review of each label if the ‘hazardous substances’ are in consumer packages;
identification of the likelihood of injury or harm occurring as a result of exposure;
consideration of similar work at other workplaces that use the ‘hazardous substances’; and
recording the outcome of the assessment in the ‘hazardous substances register’ (see below).
Where a risk assessment for a hazardous substance indicates a significant risk of injury or harm occurring as a result of exposure to it, then a report must be prepared with action recorded in it on how the requirements for ‘hazardous substances’ under the OSH regulations 1996 have been met.
Assessments must be conducted again it appears that there is an increase in the risks of injury or harm occurring as a result of exposure and when it has been five years since the last assessment was completed.
Information on how to do a risk assessment for the use of ‘hazardous substances’ can be found in the Guidance Note for the Assessment of Health Risks Arising from the Use of Hazardous Substances in the Workplace, which can be found under OSH Standards and Codes of Practice on the Safe Work Australia website.
To assist you:
Regulation 5.19 of the OSH regulations 1996 requires an employer, main contractor or self employed person to ensure that no person is exposed at the workplace to a ‘hazardous substance’ above its exposure standard.
‘Exposure standard’ means the exposure standard specified in the document, National Exposure Standards [NOHSC: 1003 (1995)], for the hazardous substance (regulation 5.1).
Exposure standards represent airborne concentrations of substances in a person’s breathing zone, which should neither impair the health of nor cause undue discomfort to nearly all workers. Additionally, the exposure standards should guard against narcosis or irritation, which could cause accidents.
Interpretation of airborne chemicals concentrations can be complex and should be done by a competent person and with reference to the Guidance note on the Interpretation of Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment [NOHSC 3008 (1995)].
The easiest way to find current exposure standards is by using the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database and searching either by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number of the chemical or by the chemical name. The HSIS database is regularly updated by Safe Work Australia, whereas the other source of information on exposure standards, the online pdf of National Exposure Standards [NOHSC: 1003 (1995)], is updated by way of separate documents published as appendixes, which must be read in addition to the National Exposure Standard.
Note there is also a requirement in relation to exposure standards under regulation 3.39 of the OSH regulations 1996. This requires the employer, main contractor or self-employed person to undertake a risk assessment for each hazard from a ‘toxic atmosphere’. Regulation 3.37 defines a ‘toxic atmosphere’ to include an atmosphere at a workplace in which there is an atmospheric contaminant in a concentration exceeding its exposure standard or inspirable dust levels above 10mg per cubic metre, respirable dust levels above 5mg per cubic metre (average over an eight hour time period), or any gas, vapour or particle in a concentration presenting a risk to safety and health.
Under the OSH regulations 1996, the employer, main contractor or self-employed person must keep a current register of each hazardous substance used at the workplace.
A ‘hazardous substance register’ must have as a minimum:
a list of all the ‘hazardous substances’ you use (including store) in your workplace; and
the material safety data sheets (MSDS) (see above) for all those ‘hazardous substances’.
A ‘hazardous substance register’ also has to:
contain a notation against each ‘hazardous substance’ as to whether a risk assessment has been completed; and
be readily available to all workers potentially exposed to the ‘hazardous substances’, including emergency services.
A sample index for a ‘hazardous substances register’ is available here. There are also consultants who can assist with this work.
No. ‘Hazardous substances’ are substances that meet criteria under either the AC classification system or the GHS classification system (see above). These classification systems are based on the harmful effects of substances on people.
Whereas ‘dangerous goods’ are substances or articles that, because of their physical and chemical (physiochemical) or acute toxicity properties, present an immediate hazard to people, property or the environment. In WA, these are defined in the Dangerous Goods Safety Act 2004 and regulations that support it – see the Department of Mines and Petroleum’s Resources Safety’s website for more information on requirements in the legislation for ‘dangerous goods’.
A chemical that is only flammable and has no toxic, corrosive, sensitising or cancer causing properties would be a ‘dangerous good’ but not a ‘hazardous substance’.
There is a large overlap (of about 95%) between the two groups, with some things being both a ‘hazardous substance’ and a ‘dangerous good’.
No. A ‘hazardous substances register’ is for the use by people at the workplace who are potentially exposed to ‘hazardous substances’ and for the person in control to keep track of the ones they have in their workplace. The requirement to keep one is explained under the next question.
A dangerous goods manifest is for the use by emergency services so they know what flammables, explosives, corrosives or toxics etc are stored on the premises in the event of an emergency such as a fire or chemical spill. The manifest is normally kept in a locked container at the main entrance to the premises. More information on dangerous goods requirements is available from the Resources Safety Division of the Department of Mines and Petroleum.
The only sure way is to get a small sample analysed by a laboratory. Accredited laboratories can be found via the National Association of Testing Authorities website.
Spray painting has to be carried out in a spray booth when it is practical to do so. It is not practical when an item is too big to fit inside the booth. However, if large articles are sprayed regularly then a bigger spray booth should be built. Touch-up spraying (less than one square metre) can be done outside a booth.
Yes. Please refer to the Code of Practice for Spray Painting. If you have any questions after reading the code, please contact WorkSafe.
WorkSafe does not offer a consultancy service to assess the risk from the use of hazardous substances in workplaces.
You can make enquiries for the names of likely consultants through:
professional associations such as the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists
your local trade or industry association;
business colleagues and organisations;
the yellow pages of the telephone directory. See:
occupational health and safety
risk management consultants
internet search engines. Keywords:
Your risk assessment should help you to work out if you need to do air monitoring. Some indicators of a need for monitoring may include:
frequent or long duration use of a chemical or process which generates hazardous vapour, dust, mist or fume; and
efficiency of ventilation is not known or no mechanical ventilation; and/or
people in the workplace are complaining of health concerns that may be due to the vapour, dust, mist or fume; and/or
there is the potential for serious health effects if controls are inadequate; and/or
it is a complex work environment and it is difficult to estimate exposure.
If you are still unsure, consult an occupational hygienist for advice.
23. I have a flammable liquid storage cabinet at my workplace, what do I need to know to use it safely?
Your cabinet should be constructed in accordance with Australian Standard, AS 1940 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids. This is available for purchase via www.saiglobal.com or you can view it at the WorkSafe library.
The bottom of the cabinet is designed to hold spills and should not be used for storage.
Use your cabinet only for flammable and combustible liquids – do not store other classes of ‘dangerous goods’ in it, unless you have checked that they are compatible with the flammable and combustible liquids.
The self-closing mechanism of the doors should be in good working order.
The cabinet should be marked with a Class 3 Flammable liquid label and the words ‘No Smoking, No Ignition Sources within 3m’ and the maximum storage quantity of the cabinet.
Containers in the cabinet must be closed tightly (unless the container requires vapour release).
Cabinet ventilation may be required for very volatile, toxic or corrosive substances. This can be determined by an appropriate risk assessment. If your cabinet smells, ensure it is clean and that all containers are clean and tightly closed. If cabinet ventilation is required, it must be to the outside of the building away from air intake points and the ventilation must not reduce the level of fire protection of the cabinet or create an ignition source. (Note: opening cabinet ventilation outlets without venting to the outside is not recommended, as it could allow flammable vapours into the work environment and reduce the fire protection of the cabinet).
The cabinet should be located:
so as not to impede emergency exits; and
3m or more from ignition sources other than ceiling lights.
For further information refer to Australian Standard, AS 1940 The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids.
For large quantities of flammable liquids, refer to the dangerous goods requirements administered by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.
Quantities requiring a cabinet (or a flammable liquid store) depend upon the type of workplace, the floor space and the nature of the flammable or combustible liquid. Refer to AS 1940 - The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids for further information.
Health surveillance in the workplace refers to the health monitoring of employees who are exposed to hazardous substances. This is a legislative requirement. Health surveillance must be supervised by an Appointed Medical Practitioner. Health surveillance may include completion of a questionnaire, medical examination, blood tests, lung function tests, chest x-rays, and so forth.
Health surveillance facilitates early identification of possible excessive absorption of a hazardous substance well before any sign of an adverse health effect. This prevents serious illness or injury from that work exposure and enables feedback to the workplace for improvements to safe work practice and safety systems.
The employer should firstly undertake a risk assessment in the workplace. This will enable the employer to identify who in the workplace requires health surveillance. The employer should set up a health surveillance process for employees in consultation with an Appointed Medical Practitioner.
The frequency of testing is determined by the type of the hazardous substance, the nature of the work, the exposure, previous health surveillance results and the presence of other risk factors e.g. a young woman who works with lead; a spray painter with pre-existing asthma who works with isocyanates.
The first step is to identify the hazardous substance, its toxicity, the quantity being used, the nature of the exposure, work processes and work environment. An assessment is undertaken of the risk or likelihood of injury or harm occurring from occupational exposure after taking into account the control measures that are in place to contain the hazard.
The employer has the responsibility of providing health surveillance at no cost to their employees, and to appoint a medical practitioner to supervise health surveillance for their employees.
Medical practitioners who wish to take on the role of Appointed Medical Practitioners (AMP) must:
- understand the principles of health surveillance;
- understand the toxicology of hazardous substances and have an awareness of current medical literature;
- apply the WorkSafe WA guidelines;
- comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations; and
- exercise clinical judgement in advising employers and employees in relation to:
- frequency of testing,
- removal of employees from lead risk work,
- turning employees to work following removal,
- further clinical or medical investigations or management,
- the need for remedial action in the workplace.
The AMP is appointed by the employer to supervise health surveillance in the workplace.
The AMP, in consultation with the employer, advises on an appropriate health surveillance program for the workplace taking into account the nature of the hazard and occupational exposure.
The program should be designed for the purpose of identifying those employees who are at risk of adverse health effects from occupational exposure to known hazardous chemical, biological and physical agents. The program will include the recommended frequency of biological monitoring, medical assessments, and workplace inspections as indicated.
The AMP is required to notify and explain the results to the employee. Where the results are of concern, the AMP is to counsel the employee, consider restrictions on or removal from occupational exposure, and liaise with the employer to investigate and implement effective workplace controls.
The AMP is responsible for notifying the results to WorkSafe Western Australia on the appropriate WorkSafe Health Surveillance Notification Form. This should be done as soon as practicable. Should any results indicate risks of serious harm, the AMP may seek to contact WorkSafe directly.
The AMP may still recommend removal from further exposure to a hazardous substance on clinical grounds in order to prevent serious adverse health effects.
An AMP can recommend removal of the employee from further exposure to the hazardous substances.
There are specific criteria for removal from work in the OSH legislation for lead workers, e.g. blood lead level exceeding 20 ug/dL for female lead worker of reproductive capacity or exceeding 50 ug/dL for all other lead workers.
The employee must undergo a medical examination by the AMP within 7 days of removal and may not return to lead work unless certified by the AMP.
- Related alerts
- Related downloads
- Working with hydrofluoric acid
- Prevent lead poisoning
- Dust hazards in assay labs
- Removal from lead work - Management of workers
- Globally harmonised system of classifying & labelling chemicals
- Nanotechnology bulletin
- Mould at work - WorkSafe bulletin 2/2013
- Spray painting - Code
- Styrene - Code
- Control of Scheduled Carcinogenic Substances
- Assessment Health Risks Arising From Hazardous Substances
- Control Workplace Hazardous Substances Retail Sector
- Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants
- Labelling of Workplace Substances
- Control and safe Use of Inorganic Lead
- Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances
- Ethylene Oxide in Sterilisation/Fumigation Processes
- Safe Use of Vinyl Chloride
- Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets
- OSH management and contaminated sites-Guidance note
- Prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning-Guidance note
- Soldering in the workplace-rosin fluxes-Guidance note
- Safe use of chemicals in the woodworking industry-Guidance note
- Controlling hazards in the electroplating industry-Guidance note
- Controlling isocyanate hazards at work-Guidance note
- Material safety data sheets (MSDS)-Guidance note
- Checklist for chemicals in the workplace
- Hazardous substances - Spray painting