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Managing Chemical Hazards + Safe Storage of Chemical Substances

Managing Chemical Hazards + Safe Storage of Chemical Substances

Aug 1st 2022

Managing Chemical Hazards + Safe Storage of Chemical Substances

Chemical hazards are present in many workplaces. They can be found in the form of vapours, mists, specks of dust, gasses, solutions, or solid forms. Safe handling and proper chemical storage are essential to preventing exposure and injury— saving lives in the workplace.

What are Hazardous Chemicals?

Hazardous chemicals are any substance, mixture, or article classified under a hazard category in the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The GHS is an internationally agreed system that provides a consistent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating their hazards.

In Australia, the GHS is used to classify hazardous chemicals to communicate the chemical substance's properties and dangers through labels, registers, and safety data sheets. If you are a manufacturer, importer, supplier, or worker exposed to these chemicals, you must meet certain work health and safety (WHS) duties to protect people.

These duties include assessing the risks posed by the chemicals and taking steps to control those risks. Using the GHS, can ensure that everyone who comes into contact with hazardous substances knows about the risks involved and how to protect themselves.

Types of Chemical Hazards

Two main types of hazards related to hazardous substances can cause immediate or long-term injury or sickness. They include:

Health hazards – are chemical qualities that might cause health problems and exposure can occur by inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Acute or chronic health impacts can also be linked (long term). Chronic health effects include asthma, dermatitis, nerve damage, and cancer. Acute health effects include headaches, nausea or vomiting, and skin corrosion.

Physicochemical hazards – are physical or chemical features of the material, mixture, or object that offer risks to workers other than health problems. Inappropriate handling or use can result in bodily injury and/or property damage. Physiological risks include fire, corrosive, explosive, reactive, and oxidizing substances.

Examples of Chemical Hazards

Chemicals can pose a hazard to human health or the environment. The term “chemical hazard” encompasses a wide range of potential risks, from the irritation caused by household cleaners to the toxicity of industrial chemicals. While all chemicals have the potential to cause harm, some are more hazardous than others. Knowing the different types of chemical hazards can help you identify and manage their risks.

Industries may encounter different types of chemical hazards, and it is important to know their types to build an effective health and safety plan. Below are some types of chemical hazards:

1. Asphyxiants – chemicals that can displace oxygen in the air and cause asphyxiation. Examples of asphyxiants are carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

2. Carcinogens – these are chemicals that can cause cancer. Examples of carcinogens are asbestos and benzene.

3. Corrosives – chemicals that can cause tissue damage by chemical action. Examples of corrosion are acids and bases.

4. Mutagens – these chemicals can change a gene's DNA structure, causing mutation. Examples of mutagens are UV radiation and certain chemicals like alkylating agents.

5. Neurotoxins – are chemicals that can damage or destroy nerve tissue. Examples of neurotoxins include lead and mercury.

6. Teratogens – these chemicals can cause an embryo or fetus malformation. An example of a teratogen is thalidomide.

Harm from Chemicals

The adverse effects on the worker's health are often due to inhaling, skin contact, or ingesting the chemical. Every year, thousands of workers are exposed to harmful chemicals in the workplace. These chemicals can lead to various short- and long-term health effects, including poisoning, skin rashes, and lung, kidney, and liver disorders. In some cases, exposure to these chemicals can even be fatal. Workers most at risk include those who work with cleaning products, pesticides, paints and other potentially hazardous materials.

However, anyone exposed to chemicals regularly is at risk of health problems. To protect your workers, it is important to assess the risks posed by the chemicals they work with and take steps to control them. Employers must develop or implement safety measures to protect workers from exposure to harmful chemicals.

Managing Risk

There are ways to manage the risks of chemical hazards. Employers can take steps to control the risks posed by chemicals in the workplace. Here are the best ways in managing risk from hazardous substances.

#1 Labelling Hazardous Substances Properly

Labels on hazardous chemicals are important for identifying the hazards posed by the chemicals and giving instructions on how to use them safely. Under Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) regulations, employers have a duty to manage the risks of chemicals in the workplace. This includes ensuring that chemicals are correctly labelled.

When chemicals are labelled, it would be easy to identify all the chemicals in your workplace that can help you manage risks more effectively. Consultation with workers and looking at their labels will provide helpful information about what they are working with, how it's stored or used on site.

Manufacturers and importers must provide labels and safety data sheets (SDS) for these products to ensure the safety of workers who come into contact with hazardous substances. The information on these documents must be reviewed at least once every five years, or more often if necessary, to ensure that it is still accurate. The specific requirements for what must be included on an SDS or label can be found in two codes of practice: the Code of Practice for the Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals, and the Code of Practice for Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals.

Information that must be present in a label includes:

  • Signal words - example: Danger or Warning
  • Hazard statements - examples: "Causes severe skin burns and eye damage" and "May cause respiratory irritation"
  • Precautionary Statements
  • Pictograms -GHS pictograms for hazards

GHS Hazard Pictograms

#2 Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

A safety data sheet, or SDS, is an important document for anyone who works with hazardous substances. The SDS contains information on the identity of the product, as well as any hazardous ingredients that it may contain. It includes potential health effects, toxicological properties, physical hazards, and safe handling and storage procedures.

In an emergency, the SDS provides essential information on how to dispose of the chemical safely. If an SDS is not supplied with a hazardous chemical, it is the employer's responsibility to obtain one before allowing employees to work with the substance.

Important hazard information that can be found in an SDS includes:

  • Hazard classification
  • The route of entry
  • Advice or warnings for at-risk workers
  • Instructions on storage
  • Physicochemical properties
  • Use situations that may generate hazardous chemicals
  • Environmental hazards

#3 Records, Registers, and Signs for Chemical Hazards

An important part of any hazard communication program is ensuring workers and visitors are aware of the chemicals in the workplace. One way to do this is through the use of signs and records. Signs can be posted in areas where chemicals are stored or used, providing information on the potential hazards and how to protect oneself. Records, such as MSDSs, can be kept on-site or electronically accessible, providing detailed information on the properties of each chemical. By providing this information, employers can help ensure that workers and visitors are aware of the risks present in the workplace and take steps to protect themselves.

All businesses are responsible for ensuring their employees' health and safety, including taking precautions to protect them from hazardous chemicals. Under the WHS Regulations, businesses that use chemicals in the workplace must:

  • Maintain a register of all hazardous chemicals on site and appropriate signage to inform employees of the dangers.
  • For larger quantities of dangerous chemicals, businesses must also have manifests and placards to assist emergency procedures in an accident.

Danger Chemical Storage Sign

#4 Chemical Risk Assessment

A chemical risk assessment identifies the hazards in the workplace and assesses the risks to workers' health and safety. The risk assessment should consider the type of chemical, the amount used, how it is used and the potential for exposure.

The WHS Regulations do not always require a risk assessment when working with chemicals. However, in many circumstances, conducting a risk assessment will be the best way to determine the measures that should be implemented to control risks.

By conducting risk assessments, you will be able to:

  • Identify which workers are at risk of exposure
  • What sources and processes are causing that risk
  • What kind of control measures should be implemented.

Additionally, checking the effectiveness of existing control measures can also be done through a risk assessment. Although a risk assessment is not mandatory in every situation, it is often very beneficial in understanding and managing risks when working with chemicals.

#5 Hierarchy of Controls

The hierarchy of control is a ranking system for the effectiveness of various methods of controlling risks associated with toxic chemicals.

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Isolation
  4. Engineering controls or administrative controls
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The hierarchy starts with the most effective and reliable methods, such as elimination and substitution, and progresses to the least effective, such as personal protective equipment. Each successive level of the hierarchy is less effective than before, so it is always best to implement the highest level of control possible. However, in some cases, eliminating or substituting a hazardous substance may not be possible, so lower levels of control may need to be used.

Employee in full PPE workwear

Storing Hazardous Substances

If you work with hazardous substances, it is essential that you store them correctly. Improper storage can lead to serious accidents, injuries, and even death. There are strict regulations governing the storage of chemicals, and it is important that you familiarise yourself with these regulations before storing any chemicals. Some basic safety rules include keeping all chemicals in clearly labelled containers, storing them in a cool, dry place away from heat or open flames, and ensuring that they are out of reach for children and pets.

What are the Hazards of Storing Chemicals?

A hazardous substance can pose a risk even when they are not in use. Some chemicals can cause or contribute to a fire or explosion, injure or poison people, or damage property if stored unsafely. Incompatible chemicals may also mix and cause an explosion, release toxic, flammable or corrosive gases, or corrode chemical containers. It is important to identify incompatible chemicals and ensure that they are stored well away from each other to minimise the chance of any incidents and reactions and reduce the chance that stored chemicals will contribute to or worsen an incident.

Safe storage of chemical substances involves:

  • Storing the chemical in a safe container - When storing chemicals, choosing a container that is in good condition and will safely hold the chemical is important. The container should also be compatible with the chemical. For example, some chemicals should not be stored in metal containers because they will react with the metal.
  • Storage and handling systems - A storage and handling system consists of any container, piping or safety devices that come into contact with chemicals.
  • Signs - Under WHS Regulations, all containers must have a placard identifying the hazardous substance. The placard must be placed in a visible location on the container so that it can be easily seen by anyone who comes into contact with it. The placard must also be legible and easy to read so that there is no confusion about the contents of the container. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in significant penalties, so it is important to ensure that all containers are properly labelled. A storage and handling system includes bottles, cylinders, drums, carboys, intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), tanks, and vessels.

Work Health and Safety (WHS) Matters

You are responsible for maintaining health and safety in your workplace if you are a person conducting a business undertaking (PCBU) with hazardous substances.

PCBUs must ensure that any system designed for storing or handling toxic chemicals fits that purpose. PCBUs must also provide appropriate training to operators, testers, and maintainers of hazardous substance storage and handling systems. This training must cover safety features, required maintenance, instruction manuals, design specifications and safe operating parameters such as temperature and pressure.

Strengthen your Management and Storage of Chemical Substances with SafetyDocs

Managing chemical hazards in the workplace requires knowledge of the chemicals and effective control measures. Using safety documents as a guide will prevent adverse health effects on workers and others who may be exposed, including public members.

SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture has a wide variety of chemical management documents available, which you can use to ensure the safe storage and handling of toxic chemicals in your workplace. These documents will help you identify the risks associated with each chemical and the appropriate control measures to mitigate those risks.

Some of the chemical management documents available from SafetyDocs include:

Benefits of having safety documents at hand:

  • Improved communication between management and employees
  • Standardisation of procedures across the organisation
  • Reduced risk of injury or harm to employees, customers and others
  • Improved workplace safety culture
  • Increased compliance with legislative requirements

Get started with SafetyDocs today and ensure the safe storage and handling of chemicals in your workplace. We are Australia's most trusted resource for safety documents, helping businesses improve their safety culture. Our documents are developed by safety experts and are designed to be readily accessible, easily understood, and implemented in any workplace. We offer the following features:

  • Instant delivery of documents via Email
  • Integration with Microsoft Office Mobile App
  • Customisable and editable templates
  • Pay only once—no subscription is needed
  • Compliant with Australian and New Zealand's legislations

Browse our catalogue of documents and use them as part of your chemical safety measures today and get started on developing a safer workplace for everyone. To learn more about setting a comprehensive safety program for your workplace, connect with SafetyDocs today!


Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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