WORKING WITH CARCINOGENS

Introduction

Exposure to some chemicals is known to cause cancer in humans. The risk of cancer depends on a range of factors including the chemical, the exposure and the susceptibility of the individual who is exposed. Within the University, the use of known and suspected carcinogens must be actively avoided, and where necessary minimised. If work with a carcinogen is required, work practices must carried out in accordance with relevant legislation and established best practice. The Head of School (or equivalent) and Supervisor are responsible for ensuring compliance with these requirements.

Prohibited and restricted carcinogens

The NSW Work Health & Safety Regulation 2011 prohibits the use of some carcinogens and restricts the use of others. All of these chemicals can be used for “genuine research and analysis” provided that prior authorization is obtained from WorkCover NSW.

A copy of the completed WorkCover NSW application form, risk assessment and safe work procedures for the planned activities involving the use of the carcinogen must be submitted to for internal review prior to submission to WorkCover NSW.

Risk assessment

A detailed risk assessment and associated safe work procedure/s must be documented for all work involving carcinogens. The risk assessment must:

  • Be documented and drafted in consultation with workers who will handle the carcinogen and who are responsible for implementing the controls resulting from the risk assessment.
  • Have controls measures to mitigate risk associated with the use, handling, storage and emergency response for the carcinogen and these must be followed as a condition of use.
  • Include relevant training and in-lab supervisory arrangements to take into account the relative inexperience of any students or staff involved in the project. The safe work procedure must document as assessment of worker competency.
  • Be reviewed by the Supervisor on a regular basis.

The risk assessment, safety data sheets, safe work procedures and other relevant documentation must be kept in a location that is readily accessible by those potentially exposed to the carcinogenic substance.

Note that undergraduate students, including honours students, may lack experience in laboratory techniques and procedures. A mistake when handling a carcinogenic substance could result in an exposure with serious long-term health consequences. It is recommended that projects proposing that undergraduate students work with carcinogenic substances must consider substituting the carcinogen for a less hazardous chemical.

Record-keeping

Records must be kept which detail who has been or is likely to have been exposed to a prohibited and restricted carcinogen. In order to comply with these requirements, as well as privacy and confidentiality requirements, any actual or suspected exposure to a listed carcinogen must be immediately be recorded in Riskware. Safety, Health and Wellbeing will review the incident report and may refer an exposed person to an occupational physician for a medical assessment. The exposure must be investigated locally to determine whether the risk controls need to be changed.

Records relating to the use of restricted and prohibited carcinogens must be kept for at least 30 years after the date of the date that the authorisation ends.

General work practices

  • A Supervisor must approve and authorise all work with highly toxic or carcinogens.
  • Workers must consult the safety data sheet of a carcinogen and risk assessment for the activity prior to use.
  • Workers handling carcinogens or highly toxic chemicals must receive appropriate training and supervision. For example, in relation to the hazards; safe work procedures; use of personal protective equipment; emergency, spill and exposure response as well as routine decontamination procedures.
  • ‘Authorised entry’ only signs are placed at the entry into areas where carcinogenic chemicals are used and these are labelled distinctively to identify the nature of the hazard and PPE required.
  • There is regular ‘housekeeping’ and cleaning of work surfaces by trained workers to remove contamination and prevent spread to other areas in the workplace.
  • All workers wash hands thoroughly after using a carcinogen.
  • Workers should regularly review the chemicals used in the laboratory to determine whether they include carcinogens with protocols are updated as necessary.

Storage and transport

  • Carcinogens are labelled clearly to indicate carcinogenic risk and any specific handling, PPE, first aid, storage or emergency procedures.
  • Carcinogens are stored securely, segregated from other general chemicals.
  • Secondary containment is used if transport is required outside of the work area.

Handling and use

  • The number of workers potentially exposed is limited and designated areas are allocated for carcinogen work in order to contain and minimise risk of contamination.
  • All experiments involving dust, vapour or aerosols of a carcinogenic nature should be carried out in a high efficiency fume cupboard. Laminar flow cabinets do not protect the worker from exposure to a carcinogen and should not be used for this purpose. A cytotoxic drug-handling cabinet which complies with AS 2567 should be used in cases where there is a need to maintain the sterility of the product.
  • Working surfaces may be covered with an absorbent material backed with plastic and should be replaced at regular intervals or when a spillage occurs.
  • Where animals are being treated with carcinogenic or highly toxic materials, care must be taken that the cages, bedding, water and food waste are handled using personal protective equipment.
  • All personal protective equipment is assessed for its suitability for handling carcinogens or toxic chemicals. Respirators may be an option.
  • Equipment and surfaces must be non-porous.
  • Any maintenance work required on equipment that has been in contact with a carcinogen or toxic chemical is conducted only after decontamination has been done. Cleaning of contaminated equipment and clothing should only be undertaken by qualified workers with appropriate procedures for handling such contamination.
  • Glove boxes should be kept under negative air pressure. Air changes should be adequate so that high concentrations of the vapours of volatile carcinogens will not occur.

Disposal

  • Disposal of carcinogenic and highly toxic waste, including chemically contaminated solid material, is completed through the University hazardous waste program.
  • If a carcinogen is no longer required it should be removed from the laboratory and disposed.