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Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace


Hazardous chemicals are substances, mixtures and articles used in the workplace that can be a health or physicochemical hazard if not handled or stored correctly.

Health hazards such as skin irritants, carcinogens or respiratory sensitisers can have an adverse effect on a worker's health as a result of direct contact with or exposure to the chemical, usually through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion.

Physicochemical hazards generally result from the physical or chemical properties, like flammability, corrosiveness, oxidising agents or their explosive potential.

The storage of LPG, Class 3 (flammable liquids), Class 6 (toxic substances and Class 8 (Corrosive substances may require a licence. See more information on applying for a dangerous substances licence.

WHS Regulations and the GHS

The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA) (the WHS Regulations) established a new system of chemical classification and hazard communication on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS), based on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

The GHS is a single internationally agreed system of chemical classification and hazard communication through labelling and SDS. The GHS is published by the United Nations and includes harmonised criteria for the classification of physical hazards, health hazards and environmental hazards.

From 1 January 2017, all workplace chemicals must be classified according to the GHS and labels and SDS must be updated.

Please note that some hazard classes and categories are excluded by the WHS Regulations and therefore the Code does not apply to those chemicals.

Refer to the PDF icon Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace - Code of Practice for more information on exclusions.

For modifications to the requirements of the GHS, refer to Schedule 6 of the WHS Regulations.

Managing the risks

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks associated with using, handling, generating or storing hazardous chemicals at a workplace.

A PCBU must ensure that a register of hazardous chemicals at the workplace is prepared and kept up-to-date. The register must be readily accessible to workers who work with hazardous chemicals and to anyone else likely to be exposed to a hazardous chemical at the workplace.

Refer to the PDF icon Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace - Code of Practice and Safe Work Australia for more information.

Identifying hazardous chemicals

The identity of chemicals in the workplace can usually be determined by looking at the label and the SDS and reading what ingredients are in each chemical or product. Manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels and SDSs, and must review the SDS at least once in every five years.

Specific guidance on what a manufacturer or importer must include in an SDS and label can be found in the following Codes:

Fact sheets:

Exposure standards

Exposure standards are legal concentration limits that must not be exceeded.

A PCBU must ensure that a worker is not exposed to airborne contaminants above the workplace exposure standard. The list of workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants is contained within the publication Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants or these are also available within the Hazardous Chemicals Information System database.

The publication, the database and the current GHS classification chemicals list can be accessed Safe Work Australia.

Assessing the risks

When assessing the risks associated with hazardous chemicals in your workplace you need to:

  • decide who should do the assessment
  • decide what sort of risk assessment is appropriate i.e. basic, generic or detailed
  • consider both the health and physicochemical risks and how the workers may be exposed when they use it in the workplace.

Refer to the PDF icon Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace - Code of Practice for more information about risk assessment.

Controlling the risks

You must always aim to eliminate a hazard and associated risk first. If this is not reasonably practicable, the risk must be minimised by using one or more of the following approaches:

  • substitution
  • isolation
  • implementing engineering controls.

Refer to the PDF icon Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace - Code of Practice for more information about controlling risks.

Emergency plans

A PCBU must prepare an effective emergency plan for the workplace. The purpose of the emergency plan is to plan for, and thus minimise, the effects of any dangerous occurrence or near miss at a workplace resulting from the handling and storage of hazardous chemicals.

Refer to the PDF icon Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace - Code of Practice for more information.

The emergency plan must be provided to the emergency services organisation if the quantity of hazardous chemicals stored and used at the workplace exceed manifest quantities. The table below list manifests quantities and shows the link between GHS classes and categories and equivalent classes of dangerous goods under the ADG Code. The person must revise the plan in accordance with any recommendations the primary emergency services organisation provides about its effectiveness.

Refer to the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service for further information about lodging of emergency plans.

Item

Description of hazardous chemical

Placard quantity

Manifest quantity

ADG Code Classification

1

Flammable gases

Category 1

200 L

5 000 L

2.1

2

Gases under pressure

Acute toxicity, categories 1, 2, 3 or 4
Note 1—Category 4 only up to LC50 of 5000 ppmV

50 L

500 L

2.3 - Note 2

3

Skin corrosion categories 1A, 1B or 1C

50 L

500 L

2.3 - Note 2

4

Aerosols (including flammable aerosols)

5000 L

10 000 L

2.1 or 2.2

5

Not specified elsewhere in this table

1000 L

10 000 L

2.2

6

Flammable liquids

Category 1

50 L

500 L

3 (PG I)

7

Category 2

250 L

2500 L

3 (PG II)

8

Category 3

1000 L

10 000 L

3 (PG III)

9

Any mix of chemicals from Items 6 – 8 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 L

10 000 L

 

10

Category 4

10 000 L

100 000 L

Note 3

11

Self-reactive substances

Type A

5 kg or L

50 kg or L

GTDTBT – Note 4

12

Type B

50 kg or L

500 kg  or L

4.1 (Type B)

13

Type C-F

250 kg  or L

2500 kg or L

4.1 (Type C-F)

14

Flammable solids

Category 1

250 kg

2500 kg

4.1 (PG II)

15

Category 2

1000 kg

10 000 kg

4.1 (PG III)

16

 

Any mix of chemicals from Items 12 - 15 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg  or L

10 000 kg or L

 

17

Pyrophoric liquids and Pyrophoric solids

Category 1

50 kg or L

500 kg  or L

4.2 (PG I)

18

Self heating substances and mixtures

Category 1

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

4.2 (PG II)

19

Category 2

1000 kg  or L

10 000 kg or L

4.2 (PG III)

20

 

Any mix of chemicals from Items 17 - 19 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg  or L

10 000 kg or L

 

21

Substances which in contact with water emit flammable gas

Category 1

50 kg or L

500 kg  or L

4.3 (PG I)

22

Category 2

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

4.3 (PG II)

23

Category 3

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

4.3 (PG III)

24

Any mix of chemicals from Items 21 - 23 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

 

25

Oxidising liquids and Oxidising solids

Category 1

50 kg or L

500 kg or L

5.1 (PG I)

26

Category 2

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

5.1 (PG II)

27

Category 3

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

5.1 (PG III)

28

Any mix of chemicals from Items 25 - 27 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

 

29

Organic peroxides

Type A

5 kg or L

50 kg or L

GTDTBT – Note 4

30

Type B

50 kg or L

500 kg or L

5.2 (Type B)

31

Type C-F

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

5.2 (Type C-F)

32

Any mix of chemicals from Items 30 and 31 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

 

33

Acute toxicity (Note 5)

Category 1

50 kg or L

500 kg or L

6.1 (PG I)

34

Category 2

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

6.1 (PG II)

35

Category 3

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

6.1 (PG III)

36

Any mix of chemicals from Items 33 - 35 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg  or L

10 000 kg or L

 

37

Skin corrosion

Category 1A

50 kg or L

500 kg  or L

8 (PG I)

38

Category 1B

250 kg or L

2500 kg or L

8 (PG II)

39

Category 1C

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

8 (PG III)

40

Corrosive to metals

Category 1

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

8 (PG III)

41

 

Any mix of chemicals from Items 37 - 40 where none of the items exceeds the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

1000 kg or L

10 000 kg or L

 

42

Unstable explosives

 

5 kg or L

50kg or L

GTDTBT – Note 4

43

 

Any mix of chemicals from items 11, 29 and 42 where none of the items exceed the quantities in columns 4 or 5 on their own

5 kg or L

50 kg or L

GTDTBT – Note 4

NOTES:

  1. For item 2, gases under pressure with acute toxicity category 4 only applies up to a LC50 of 5000 ppmV, which is equivalent to Div. 2.3 under the ADG code.
  2. Division 2.3 under the ADG Code includes gases and vapours as acutely toxic (categories 1, 2 and 3) and gases which are corrosive to skin (category 1).
  3. Only liquids with a flash point of up to 93°C are classified as flammable liquids under the WHS Regulations. C1 combustible liquids with flash points between 93°C and 150°C are not classified as flammable liquids under the GHS or WHS Regulations.
  4. GTDTBT = Goods too dangerous to be transported.
  5. For gases classified with Acute Toxicity, the placard and manifest quantities as defined under item 2, rather than items 33-36, should be used.

Flammable liquid classification: For the purposes of this table, if a flammable liquid of category 4 is used, handled or stored in the same spill compound as one or more flammable liquids of categories 1, 2 or 3, the total quantity of flammable liquid is determined as if the flammable liquid of category 4 had the same classification as the flammable liquid in the spill compound with the lowest flash point. For example, 1000 L of flammable liquid category 1 and 1000 L of flammable liquid category 4 is considered to contain 2000 L of flammable liquid category 1.