Chemical control

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Employee / workerEmployer

Chemicals, just like any other hazard, need to be managed.  The information on this page will assist you in achieving this.

What should I do to manage chemical hazards?

Employers and self employed people have a legal responsibility to obtain adequate information about hazardous substances used in their workplaces. This information is contained in Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which can be obtained from the manufacturer, importer or wholesale supplier.

For substances which are not classified as hazardous, there is a general duty of care to ensure there is enough information provided so that the chemical can be used safely. This may be information from the label, product information sheet, or MSDS (if available).  MSDS are not mandatory for chemicals not classified as hazardous. 

This information should be used to identify any potential hazards that may arise from the use, storage, and transportation of the chemicals. A risk assessment is required for hazardous substances, and employers should consult with workers on practical ways to control the hazards. 

Constructive problem solving is the key to successful hazard control in the workplace. The onus is on both the employer and employee to obtain as much information about the hazardous substances used in the workplace as needed to manage the risks. If you're not sure whether you have adequate information, take another look at the MSDS and label, contact the manufacturer, or do some further research. 

If in doubt, ask. You have the 'right to know'. 

Responsibilities

If you are an employer:

DO - exercise your 'right to know' by requesting MSDS for all the hazardous substances used in your workplace from the manufacturer, importer or wholesale supplier. Ensure these are kept in a register, together with the list of substances and reference to risk assessments. MSDS must be kept current as far as practicable (and issued less than 5 years ago).

DO - ensure all substances have either their original label, or (if decanted and not used immediately) an adequate label to identify the substance and the risks associated with it.

DO - conduct a risk assessment on the use of hazardous substances (in consultation with employees) to ensure your controls are adequate to minimise risks.  Seek expert assistance if the risk is complex or you are concerned exposures are high.  Keep a record of the risk assessment.

DO - make sure hazardous substances are stored correctly and access to them is controlled if needed, according to guidance in the MSDS. 

DO – consider the hierarchy of controls when managing chemical hazards. For example, consider whether the chemical can be eliminated, whether a safer chemical could be used instead, whether the process could be enclosed, or whether local extraction ventilation near the task is required. Administrative controls and the use of personal protective equipment are generally considered less reliable than these 'higher level' controls.  

DO - implement safe handling, transportation and emergency procedures, in consultation with your employees. Follow the guidelines in the MSDS and take into account any other information obtained from the manufacturers, importer, wholesale supplier or other relevant organisations. 

DO - provide employees with training in the hazards and safe handling of hazardous substances they use. Supervise employees so they follow safe handling procedures. Keep records of training provided.

DO - provide adequate safety equipment for your employees as indicated in the MSDS. Ensure safety equipment is well maintained, eg. air flow in ventilation systems and water flow in safety showers is checked.

DO - take advantage of training offered by manufacturers, importers or suppliers of hazardous substances, or safety training organisations. 

If you are an employee: 

DO - exercise your 'right to know' and ask to see all MSDS for the hazardous substances used in your workplace. 

DO - read the label before using a hazardous substance.

DO - take advantage of all training offered that will help you to deal with hazardous substances and potentially hazardous situations. 

DO - tell your employer if you are concerned that any work practices are unsafe or you are exposed to a hazard.

DO - discuss with your employer ways in which the job can be made safer by improvements to your work and safety practices and procedures. 

DO - use all safety equipment provided by your employer. If adequate equipment is not available discuss this with your employer immediately. 

Government organisations involved in hazardous substance control

Although you would normally contact the manufacturer, importer or wholesale supplier when you need information on a substance, some other organisations involved in hazardous substance control include:

REMEMBER: Read the MSDS. Talk to each other about working with hazardous substances. 

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