Safety alert 2/2016 - Workers exposed to chemical fumes during household waste collection

A local government organisation held a waste collection day in early 2016, for residents to drop off items such as white goods, E-waste, vehicle batteries, engine oil, tyres and paint. Four workers clearing the paints after the collection day noticed a chemical odour, and became unwell almost immediately. Symptoms included vomiting, watering eyes, tingling lips and dizziness. Workers were driven to a medical centre and another worker who was driving those affected became ill from secondary exposure. Workers were transferred to hospital for observation and released later the same day. 

Contributing factors

  • No risk assessment for chemical hazards associated with the waste collection day
  • No formal safe work procedures in relation to chemical hazards associated with the waste collection day
  • No MSDS used to identify hazards and controls for anticipated chemical wastes
  • No provision of respirators appropriate for chemical vapours
  • No information or training to workers in relation to potential chemical hazards and how to manage incidents relating to chemicals
  • Resident/s may have dropped off unsuitable or incorrectly labelled hazardous chemicals.

Action required

  1. Educate residents on waste acceptance criteria.
  2. Verbally confirm the nature of the wastes with residents during the waste drop-off. 
  3. Visually check that chemical containers are intact, closed and labelled during the waste drop-off.
  4. Ensure information is available on chemical hazards. For example, use typical MSDSs for common wastes such as oil based paints, thinners and vehicle batteries as a guide.
  5. Conduct risk assessments for waste collection days.
  6. Ensure appropriate safety equipment (including PPE) is available for routine collection activities and for potential incidents such as a spill, fire or chemical exposure.
  7. Ensure workers conducting waste collection activities have been trained in potential hazards, suitable control measures, use of PPE, and how to deal with unplanned incidents.      

Further information

Department of Environment Regulation, 2013. Guidelines for the design and operation of facilities for the acceptance and storage of household hazardous waste. Available at

Further information can be obtained from WorkSafe’s website or by contacting customer services on 1300 307 877 or email

Last updated 01 Aug 2018

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