Hazardous chemicals and their risks In Australia

Have you ever wondered what makes a chemical hazardous and how its risks are managed in Australia?

In Australia, hazardous chemicals are substances, mixtures, or articles classified under hazard categories defined in the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The management of hazardous substances is critical, especially in light of industrial chemical exposure in workplaces. These chemicals, which include potentially dangerous materials like antimony, arsenic, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, and carbon disulphide, must be handled with stringent care to prevent serious health risks.

Interestingly, not all risky substances are classified as hazardous. For instance, infectious substances, radioactive materials, and those hazardous only to the environment do not fall under the hazardous chemicals category in Australia. Furthermore, certain GHS classifications such as acute toxicity category 5 and skin irritation category 3, among others, are excluded.

Rigorous standards and regulations have been established to manage these substances effectively and safeguard workers. Compliance with the approved codes of practice, such as the Code of Practice on Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace, which spans 105 pages, is essential. These codes are even admissible in court proceedings under the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations, underscoring their importance.

Adopted on 1 January 2012, the transition to the seventh revised edition of GHS (GHS 7) started on 1 January 2021 and mandates that by 1 January 2023, all classifications, labels, and safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals adhere to GHS 7. This ongoing review ensures that information remains up-to-date, accurate, and compliant.

As chemical safety regulations continue to evolve, the meticulous attention to hazardous substances management remains crucial. Understanding these regulations not only helps protect worker health but also mitigates the risks associated with industrial chemical exposure.

Understanding Hazardous Chemicals

In Australia, hazardous chemicals used in workplaces can pose significant health or physicochemical hazards if not managed properly. Effective toxic substance handling and comprehensive chemical classification are essential to safeguard workers and the environment.

Definition and Classification

Hazardous chemicals are defined based on their physical, health, and environmental risks. These classifications follow the Global Harmonized System (GHS), which provides a consistent methodology for chemical classification globally. The GHS encompasses criteria like physicochemical properties, toxicity, and environmental impact, ensuring clear hazard communication through labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

Types of Hazardous Chemicals

Hazardous chemicals include a variety of substances that can cause different types of harm:

  • Health hazards: Skin irritants, carcinogens, respiratory sensitisers that may affect workers through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion.
  • Physicochemical hazards: Substances capable of causing fires, explosions, or corrosive reactions.

Specific examples include flammable liquids, gases, toxic substances, and corrosive substances, highlighting the need for stringent chemical classification criteria and safe toxic substance handling practices.

Global Harmonized System (GHS)

Adopted by Australia in January 2012, the GHS has transitioned to its seventh revision by January 2023. Its primary goal is to unify how chemicals are classified and labelled globally. This system mandates that manufacturers and importers provide accurately classified and labelled chemicals along with up-to-date SDS every five years. Through the GHS, organisations can achieve consistent and effective communication about chemical hazards, thereby enhancing workplace safety.

Health Risks Associated with Hazardous Chemicals

Exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace can present a multitude of health risks, both immediate and long-term. A thorough chemical risk assessment is essential to identify and mitigate these risks, ensuring worker safety and compliance with regulations.

Immediate Health Effects

Immediate health effects of exposure to workplace chemical hazards can be severe and include skin irritation, chemical burns, poisoning, and hypersensitivity reactions. The Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals Code of Practice offers guidance to those responsible for handling, generating, or storing hazardous chemicals on how to manage these risks effectively.

For instance, exposure to chemicals like glyphosates, common in pesticides, can result in acute symptoms of poisoning if not managed with the proper protective measures.

Long-Term Health Consequences

Long-term health consequences arising from workplace chemical exposure demand serious attention. Chronic illnesses, cancer, and other persistent health issues underscore the importance of rigorous chemical risk assessment and management strategies in workplaces. The transition to GHS Revision 7 (GHS 7) and adherence to the Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations are critical steps in ensuring workers’ long-term health.

For example, prolonged exposure to crystalline silica, classified as a Schedule 14 hazardous substance, is known to cause silicosis, a chronic and potentially fatal respiratory disease. Industries must abide by approved codes of practice to minimise such risks.

Chemical Safety Regulations in Australia

In Australia, chemical safety regulations are critical in ensuring workplace safety and minimizing health risks. These regulations encompass a range of duties and responsibilities for employers, employees, and regulatory bodies. This section explores the necessary compliance measures, lists of prohibited and restricted chemicals, and the key regulatory bodies overseeing these standards.

WHS Duties and Responsibilities

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act of 2004 and the OHS Regulations 2017 establish stringent responsibilities for employers to ensure safety in connection with hazardous substances. Employers are required to:

  • Eliminate or reduce risks by substituting with less hazardous options, isolating employees, or implementing engineering controls.
  • Provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS), maintain lists of hazardous substances, and ensure proper labeling and identification of containers.
  • Conduct atmosphere and health monitoring to prevent exposure above set standards, provide results to employees, and keep records.
  • Consult health and safety representatives and employees on changes in substance use affecting health and safety.

Employees must comply with safety policies, use the provided control measures, participate in health surveillance, and attend training sessions to adequately perform their duties.

Prohibited and Restricted Chemicals

Certain chemicals are strictly regulated under the OHS Regulations 2017, particularly those with carcinogenic properties. These substances are listed under Schedule 10 (Prohibited) and Schedule 11 (Restricted), delineating specific licensing requirements for their use. For instance:

Chemical Schedule Requirements
Carcinogens 10 Prohibited
Asbestos 11 Restricted, with licensing

In addition, stringent control measures apply to lead processes and chemicals used in abrasive blasting, ensuring occupational exposure limits are not exceeded.

Regulatory Bodies and Standards

The regulatory framework for managing hazardous chemicals in Australia is overseen by several key bodies:

  • Safe Work Australia maintains the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) and sets national standards for hazardous substances.
  • Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) authorities enforce compliance at state and territory levels.
  • The Dangerous Goods Act and related regulations govern the storage, handling, and transportation of dangerous goods, focusing on mitigating immediate risks to people and property.

These regulatory bodies and standards ensure comprehensive management of hazardous chemicals, contributing to a safer working environment across Australia.

Hazardous Chemicals and Their Risks In Australia

Managing the hazardous chemicals risks in Australia is paramount, spanning from physical accidents like fires and explosions to severe health issues, including carcinogenic and toxic exposure. With the SafeWork NSW Regulatory Priorities for 2023 focusing on reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals at workplaces, it is evident that stringent protocols for chemical storage handling play a critical role in mitigating these risks.

The hazardous chemicals present in workplaces come in various forms such as powders, solids, liquids, and gases, covering a wide range from paints to pesticides, cleaners, and fuels. These substances pose complex challenges, particularly when mismanaged. For instance, glyphosates found in pesticides have been assessed as potentially carcinogenic, emphasizing the need for careful handling of these hazardous chemicals to avoid chronic health effects.

hazardous chemicals risks

Addressing these risks involves ongoing measures such as effective chemical classification systems like the GHS, which came into effect in NSW in 2017. The system enhances safety standards and awareness surrounding chemical storage handling. Additionally, workplaces must ensure protective equipment, leak containment, vapor controls, and appropriate labeling and proximity to emergency equipment are maintained.

Work-related hazards also include the risk of hazardous atmospheres, which can be influenced by factors like insufficient oxygen and the presence of flammable gases or combustible dusts. The health impacts of exposure to hazardous chemicals can be both acute, such as vomiting and dizziness, and chronic, leading to conditions like asthma and liver damage. Understanding the multifaceted nature of these risks enables better management and preventive strategies.

Below is a detailed table summarizing the types of hazardous chemicals and their associated risks:

Type of Hazardous Chemical Potential Health Risks Safety Protocols
Glyphosates Carcinogenic, respiratory issues Proper PPE, restricted use, regular monitoring
Lead Neurological damage, kidney issues Ventilation, dust control, regular health checks
Flammable Liquids Fire, explosion Lowest practical quantity, dedicated storage
PFAS Firefighting Foams Pooled health concerns Awareness of risks, safe storage, handling protocols

Proper chemical storage handling and adherence to safety protocols can significantly reduce the inherent risks posed by these substances. Continuous education, regular monitoring, and compliance with regulations are foundational to a safe and healthy workplace environment.

Managing Chemical Risks in the Workplace

Effective management of chemical risks in the workplace is paramount to ensure the safety of employees and the surrounding environment. This involves a multi-faceted approach that includes rigorous risk assessment procedures, strict control measures, and continuous training and information dissemination for workers. Each of these aspects plays a critical role in mitigating the hazards posed by chemicals classified as dangerous goods, which can harm people, property, and ecosystems.

Risk Assessment Procedures

Conducting thorough risk assessments is the first step in managing chemical risks in the workplace. This process should be carried out by knowledgeable individuals or collaborative assessment teams who are familiar with the hazardous chemicals present. Key factors to consider include the toxicity, extent, and duration of exposure. Identifying these risks early helps in devising effective strategies to manage them, ensuring a safer working environment.

Control Measures and Hierarchies

Once risks are identified, PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) must implement control measures according to a hierarchy, such as elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, substituting a less hazardous chemical for a more dangerous one or installing proper ventilation systems are crucial steps. Regular inspections and maintenance of equipment are also essential to sustain effective controls and compliance with workplace health and safety regulations.

Training and Information for Workers

Providing comprehensive training and information is crucial for equipping workers with the necessary skills to handle hazardous chemicals safely. Employee chemical training programs should cover the proper use of PPE, emergency response protocols, and understanding of safety data sheets. Up-to-date safety data sheets must be accessible and include detailed information on the chemical’s hazards, proper use, and emergency measures. Continuous education ensures that employees are always prepared to manage and respond to chemical risks in the workplace.


Q: What are hazardous chemicals and why are they a concern in Australia?

A: Hazardous chemicals encompass substances, mixtures, or articles classified under a hazard category in the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). These chemicals pose significant risks when manufactured, imported, supplied, or utilized in workplaces and must be managed according to stringent work health and safety (WHS) duties to safeguard individuals.

Q: How are hazardous chemicals defined and classified in Australia?

A: Hazardous chemicals are defined and classified according to their physical, health, and environmental hazards as stipulated by the GHS. They include skin irritants, carcinogens, respiratory sensitisers, and substances that pose physicochemical hazards such as fire, explosions, and corrosive reactions. The classification must be kept up-to-date by manufacturers and importers.

Q: What health risks are associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace?

A: Exposure to hazardous chemicals can result in immediate health effects such as irritation, burns, poisoning, and hypersensitivity. Long-term health consequences include chronic illnesses, cancer development, and persistent alterations to an individual’s health, underscoring the importance of risk assessment and management strategies.

Q: What are the key responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations in Australia?

A: WHS regulations mandate the maintenance of registers, labels, and safety data sheets, along with adherence to exposure standards. These duties involve the correct classification and labeling of chemicals, accurate provision of SDSs, and specific storage, handling, and disposal protocols to ensure safety.

Q: What chemicals are prohibited or restricted for workplace use in Australia?

A: Certain chemicals are prohibited or restricted for specific uses, such as in abrasive blasting or spray painting. These restrictions are based on chemical concentrations or potential radiation levels, outlined within the regulatory framework to mitigate health and environmental risks.

Q: Which regulatory bodies oversee chemical safety in Australia?

A: Safe Work Australia and various WHS authorities are the primary entities responsible for establishing and enforcing standards for the safe management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. They ensure compliance with regulations and provide guidelines for best practices in handling and exposure management.

Q: How should employers manage chemical risks in the workplace?

A: Effective management involves conducting comprehensive risk assessments, implementing control measures and hierarchies like substitution and engineering controls, and providing substantive training and instruction for workers. Regular reviews and maintenance of these controls are crucial to sustaining workplace safety.

Q: What are the fundamental practices for chemical storage and handling?

A: Proper chemical storage and handling require adherence to safety data sheets (SDS), appropriate labeling, and safe containment strategies to prevent accidental release and contamination. Ensuring secure storage areas, regular monitoring, and emergency preparedness are vital components of chemical safety.

Q: What should be included in employee training for handling hazardous chemicals?

A: Employee training should cover the identification and classification of hazardous chemicals, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency response procedures, risk assessment methods, and compliance with safety regulations. Ongoing education and drills help reinforce safe practices and awareness.

Source Links

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these <abbr title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</abbr> tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Contact Us