Employers have a responsibility to provide safe work procedures when you handle hazardous substances.
A hazardous chemical is any chemical that can cause you harm – including paint, glue, cleaning liquid, powders or chemicals. Manufacturer and/or supplier's must provide instructions on the safe use and handling of their chemicals and substances.
An injury from contact with a hazardous chemicals may occur at work or after you have finished work. Symptoms from chemical exposure can include dizziness, nausea, sore eyes and itchy skin. In extreme cases illnesses can range from immediate toxic effects including unconsciousness to longer term health effects such as cancer.
Safety Data Sheets and labels
All hazardous chemicals used in your workplace should be clearly labelled and stored in a safe place. You should be instructed on the safe use of these chemicals and told about the proper control measures before you start work.
A Safety Data Sheet gives in-depth information on the hazardous chemical or substance, including first aid instructions. Labels and Safety Data Sheets are the first source of information for workers about these chemicals. You should always use hazardous chemicals in accordance with the manufacturer or supplier's written instructions.
The information in a Safety Data Sheet may be technical and it is your employer's responsibility to develop appropriate instructions for use in your workplace (such as making the instructions understandable and appropriate for the process you are doing).
If you need more information, ask your supervisor or Health and Safety Representative.
Working with hazardous chemicals
Working safely with or around hazardous chemicals involves:
- checking the label
- having the Safety Data Sheet in an accessible location (near where the chemicals are being used) for both workers and emergency services
- reading and understanding the content contained in the Safety Data Sheet
- following safe work procedures under appropriate supervision
- using controls (e.g. ventilation, piping or transfer systems)
- correctly wearing the appropriate safety equipment provided for the task
- storing PPE correctly to avoid contamination
- not eating, drinking or smoking while working with a hazardous chemical
- keeping food or drink away from the work area and not storing chemicals in old drink containers
- washing your hands, face and other exposed areas before eating, drinking or going to the bathroom.
Everyone is responsible for safe work – so if you're not sure about something, ask someone.