OHS Management of Hazardous Substances

Hazardous substances are a significant Occupational Health & Safety (‘OHS’) risk in workplaces, which can cause a serious injury or death. Substances inclusive, of solids, liquids or gas that can cause adverse health effects from their exposure are referred to as hazardous substances. The Occupational Health & Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic) (‘Regulations’) imposes specific duties for manufacturers, suppliers and employers for the manufacture, supply, storage and use of hazardous substances in workplaces. Similar duties exist under the harmonised Work Health and Safety (‘WHS’) legislation operating in other jurisdictions.[1]

The legislation does not apply to hazardous substances which are not used in a workplace in the context of OHS and WHS legislation. This article discusses some of the key duties in relation to hazardous substances in Victoria and how duty holders can comply with their duties and manage the risks.

Manufacturers & Importing Suppliers

Classification

Manufacturers and importing suppliers have a duty to determine whether a substance is hazardous before the substance is first supplied to the workplace.[2] This is an important duty as the correct classification of the hazardous substance will be relied upon by other workplaces and persons using the substances. Incorrect classification can result in persons being exposed to the risk of injury or death. Manufacturers and importing suppliers should assess all ingredients and their concentrations in the substances in determining whether the substance is hazardous.

Safety Data Sheets

Manufacturers and importing suppliers have a duty to prepare a Safety Data Sheet, before the substance is first supplied to the workplace.[3] The Safety Data Sheet is required to contain the information prescribed by the regulations, which includes information such as[4]: (Please note this is not an exhaustive list)

  • Manufacturer or importing supplier’s contact details
  • Australian telephone number in case of emergency
  • Hazard identification of the substance
  • Health effects and toxicology
  • First aid measures
  • Fire fighting measures
  • Exposure standards
  • Handling and storage information
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and Reactivity

Manufacturers and importing suppliers are required to prepare the Safety Data Sheet in English and must review the Safety Data Sheets as often as is necessary or at least every 5 years.[5] Manufacturers and suppliers  also have a duty to provide a current or revised Safety Data Sheet to any person to whom the substance is supplied to on or before the first use and on request by an employer who proposes to use the hazardous substance at a workplace.[6]

Manufacturers and suppliers should ensure they have systems in place to manage and distribute Safety Data Sheets. This may include distributing the Safety Data Sheet with the product, and by electronic communication. The Safety Data Sheets can also be uploaded on their website for wider access to the public.

Labelling & Disclosure of Chemical Identity

Manufacturers and importing suppliers of hazardous substances have a duty to correctly label containers before the substance is supplied to a workplace.[7] Suppliers other than importing suppliers also have a duty to ensure the substance is supplied with the manufacturer’s or importing supplier’s labels.[8] The labelling is required to comply with the Global Harmonised System of classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS) which is an international standard for labelling hazardous substances.

Manufacturers and importing suppliers of hazardous substances have a duty to immediately disclose the chemical identity of an ingredient of a hazardous substance to a registered medical practitioner if the Safety Data Sheet does not disclose the ingredient and the registered medical practitioner requests it to assist with the management of a patient.[9]

Employers & Self Employed

Prohibited Hazardous Substances

Employers and self-employed persons have a duty to ensure the prescribed prohibited hazardous substances are not used in the workplace under the regulations. This includes not using materials containing more than 1% crystalline silica for abrasive blasting.[10]

Safety Data Sheets

Employers have a duty to obtain the Safety Data Sheet of the hazardous substance before it’s first supply to the workplace.[11] The Safety Data Sheet is required to be accessible to employees who may be exposed to the substance.[12]  Employers have a further duty to not alter information on the Safety Data Sheets obtained from the manufacturer and first supplier.[13]

Safety Data Sheets are critical documents that can provide vital information during an incident or emergency. The management of Safety Data Sheets is often challenging for workplaces. Employers should implement robust systems in place, which ensures any substances supplied to the workplace is accompanied with a corresponding Safety Data Sheet. Employers should check the validity of Safety Data Sheets during inspections and audits to ensure Safety Data Sheets remain current.

Employers which rely on electronic Safety Data Sheets that are accessible via a computer, requiring a username and password may not comply with their duties where employees are unable to access the computer and where hard copies of Safety Data Sheets are not retained. The Safety Data Sheets should be accessible near the location where the hazardous substances are being handled or stored, to minimise any delays during an incident or emergency.

Labelling

Employers have a duty to ensure that hazardous substances supplied to the workplace is correctly labelled with the manufacturer’s or importing supplier’s label.[14] The label is required to be legible and not removed, defaced or altered.[15]

Decanted containers containing hazardous substances are required to be labelled with the name of the product identifier.[16] This requirement does not apply where the decanted substance is consumed immediately and the container is then cleaned immediately or neutralised.[17]

Employers have a duty to identify any hazardous substance contained in a pipe, piping system, process vessel, reactor vessel or any plant that forms part of the manufacturing process exposing employees to the substance.[18]

Employers are also required to identify any containers of waste produced or generated from the hazardous substance.[19]

OHS inspections and audits are critical tools which can be used to monitor compliance to the labelling obligations under the regulations. Employers should conduct regular inspections of hazardous substances in containers and plant to check compliance with the labelling requirements. All non-compliances should be rectified immediately to prevent an incident.

Hazardous Substances Register

Employers have a duty to prepare and maintain a hazardous substances register that lists all hazardous substances stored, handled or used in the workplace.[20] The hazardous substances register is required to list all of the product identifiers of the hazardous substances supplied to the workplace with a copy of the corresponding Safety Data Sheet for each hazardous substance.[21] The hazardous substances register is required to be accessible to employees who may be exposed to a hazardous substance at the workplace.[22]

Hazardous Substances Register is an important document that can assist in an emergency. It is best practice for the register to contain the storage location of the hazardous substances, the maximum quantity of the hazardous substance and the expiry date of the Safety Data Sheet. Employers should implement systems that ensure the register is updated, upon the introduction of new hazardous substances to the workplace. The register should also be inspected during inspections and audits to check whether it accurately corresponds to the hazardous substances stored on used on site.

A hazardous substances register can be incorporated with a dangerous goods register in workplaces where dangerous goods are stored or handled.

Risk Control

Employers have a duty to so far as is reasonably practicable eliminate or reduce the risks arising from hazardous substances.[23] The following hierarchy of control measures may be used to control the risk:

Elimination

Elimination is the most effective risk control for managing risks arising from hazardous substances. Employers should assess whether the use of the hazardous substance can be eliminated entirely from site.

Substitution

Substitution can also be used to manage the risks arising from hazardous substances. Employers should assess whether the hazardous substance can be substituted with a lower risk hazardous substance. In determining this, employers should assess the health effects from the substance, their route of exposure and any exposure standards.

Isolation

Isolation is an effective control to manage the risks arising from hazardous substances. Employers should consider whether the hazardous substance can be isolated from exposure by the use of enclosed systems, barriers and guards. Isolation controls are critical for hazardous substances that are contained in plant and equipment.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls can also be effective to manage the risks from hazardous substances. Examples of engineering controls include automatic shut off valves to prevent exposure, alarms and warning systems to raise awareness, or using mechanical ventilation systems to control fumes.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are generally lower forms of control as they are susceptible to human factors. Administrative controls should not be relied on in isolation and should be used in conjunction with the above more effective controls. Examples of administrative controls include, implementing safe working procedures for handling hazardous substances, reducing the duration or frequency of the exposure to hazardous substance, implementing signage to alert persons of the hazards of the hazardous substance or training employees on the risks and controls associated with hazardous substances.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment is the least effective control measure and is susceptible to human factors. Personal Protective Equipment should be used in conjunction with higher control measures. Examples of Personal Protective Equipment to manage the risks arising from hazardous substances include safety goggles, face shield, respiratory protection, full sleeve overalls, chemical resistant gloves, and safety shoes.

The condition of Personal Protective Equipment can deteriorate rapidly depending on the nature of the hazardous substance and duration of use. Employers should ensure they have systems in place to monitor the condition of Personal Protective Equipment used by employees. Employers should also train employees on the correct fitting and storage of Personal Protective Equipment, as improper fitting of Personal Protective Equipment may result in exposure to hazardous substances.

Employers have a duty to review and if necessary revise the control measures in the following circumstances:

  • Before any change is made to systems of work or
  • If the employer receives advice from a registered medical practitioner or
  • After an incident occurs or
  • If the risk control measures do not adequately control the risk or
  • After receiving a request from a Health and Safety Representative.[24]
Atmospheric Monitoring

Atmospheric Monitoring involves measuring the inhalation zones of workers for airborne contaminants to determine exposure. Atmospheric monitoring can be lacking in workplaces due to the lack of knowledge of duties in relation to atmospheric monitoring.

Employers have a duty to ensure that the exposure standard of a hazardous substance used in the workplace is not exceeded of the substance or any of its ingredient.[25] Information of the exposure standard can be obtained from the Safety Data Sheet of the substance or from the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS).

Employers have a duty to undertake atmospheric monitoring if a hazardous substance is used at the workplace and there is uncertainty whether the exposure standard of the substance or any of its ingredients is exceeded or atmospheric monitoring is necessary to determine whether there is a risk to health.[26]

Atmospheric monitoring is not required in circumstances where health monitoring is required for the substance, such as in the case of benzene and the health monitoring includes biological monitoring.[27]

Employers have a duty to provide the results of any atmospheric monitoring as soon as reasonably possible to any employee who has or may be exposed to the hazardous substance.[28] Employers are required to retain and make accessible to employees records of atmospheric monitoring for a period as determined by WorkSafe or for 30 years where no period is determined by WorkSafe.[29]

Health Monitoring

Employers are obligated to provide health monitoring of employees for some hazardous substances. Employers have a duty to undertake health monitoring of employees if an employee is exposed to a hazardous substance that requires health monitoring as prescribed in the regulations or determined by WorkSafe and the exposure is likely to have an adverse effect to the employee’s health.[30] Some examples of hazardous substances that require health monitoring include:

  • Lead
  • Benzene
  • Arsenic
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Mercury
  • Thallium
  • Cadmium

The health monitoring is required to be undertaken under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner and employers are required to retain health monitoring records for a period as determined by WorkSafe or for 30 years where no period is determined by WorkSafe.[31]

Conclusion

The risks arising from hazardous substances can be heightened depending on the nature of the hazardous substances, their quantity and the nature of their storage or handling. The duties in relation to hazardous substances are extensive and duty holders should ensure they have implemented systems to comply with their obligations and manage the risks.

 

 


[1] Work Healthy and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW) Chapter 7.

[2] Occupational Health & Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic) r 143.

[3] ibid r 144(1).

[4] ibid r 145(1).

[5] ibid r 146(1).

[6] ibid r 147(1), r 148(1).

[7] ibid r 149(1).

[8] ibid r 151.

[9] ibid r 152.

[10] ibid r 153.

[11] ibid r 155.

[12] ibid r 156(1).

[13] ibid r 157.

[14] ibid r 158(1).

[15] ibid r 158(2).

[16] ibid r 158(3).

[17] ibid r 158(4).

[18] ibid r 160.

[19] ibid r 161.

[20] ibid r 162(1).

[21] ibid r 162(2).

[22] ibid r 162(3).

[23] ibid r 163.

[24] ibid r 164(1).

[25] ibid r 165.

[26] ibid r 166(1).

[27] ibid r 166(2).

[28] ibid r 167.

[29] ibid r 168.

[30] ibid r 169(1).

[31] ibid regulations 169(2) 171(1).