WORKING WITH CHEMICALS

Overview

Many of the chemicals we work with can be harmful to our health if we are exposed to them. Some pose a risk of injury or incident if not handled properly. There are also specific legislative requirements for working with hazardous substances, dangerous goods and scheduled poisons.

The information in this section of the website explains the University’s requirements for working with chemicals and a framework for implementation. These guidelines and performance standards have been developed with reference to:

Scope

This information is applicable to all University staff and students who work with chemicals. It is also applicable to contractors and University affiliates who work with chemicals on University property.

Definitions

  • Hazardous substances are pure chemicals or chemical mixtures that are hazardous to your health.
  • Dangerous goods are substances or articles that pose an immediate risk to people, property or the environment (eg. flammable, toxic, corrosive).
  • Scheduled poisons are chemicals and pharmaceuticals that have special controls applied to how they are packaged, labelled, dispensed and used to ensure the safety of the community.

Summary of performance standards

Procurement of chemicals

The procurement of chemicals must be controlled by the relevant local management. Approval to purchase a chemical should only be provided if:

  • the relevant MSDS has been reviewed
  • it has been determined that no safer alternative is available
  • the volume of the chemical is appropriate to the expected short-term demand for use
  • adequate storage facilities are available; and
  • appropriate facilities and competent staff are available to safely carryout (or supervise) the work involving the chemical.

Chemicals should be purchased in small quantities, as required. The cost of chemical waste disposal often cancels out any cost saving achieved by purchasing in bulk.

Some chemicals have a limited life span, and may deteriorate and become unstable with age (eg. diethyl ether, perchloric acid). If the chemical is expected to become unstable over time, this must be identified at the time of purchase and arrangements made to manage the risk.

There are additional special requirements for the procurement and use of Schedule 7 Poisons, Schedule 8 Controlled Drugs and Carcinogenic Substances.

Chemical registers

The chemical register is a tool for the management of the chemicals used and stored by a workgroup. It includes a list of chemicals, their classification, storage locations and typical volumes. The register also provides information about how each chemical is used with links to the MSDS, risk assessments and standard operating procedures. All staff must have access to the chemical register for their workgroup.

Download the University’s Chemical Register template.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

An MSDS is a document prepared by the manufacturer and provided to you by the supplier. It will state whether the chemical is classified as hazardous and/or a dangerous good and provide details about the physical and chemical properties of the substance and precautions for safe use. Manufacturers/suppliers are required to review and update MSDS every 5 years. Ensure you have the current MSDS.

MSDSs must be readily available to all staff and students who may be exposed to that chemical. It is acceptable to keep printed MSDSs together with the chemical register or to store the MSDSs electronically, as long as they are readily accessible.

The ChemAlert database provides access to a large range of supplier MSDSs, which can be viewed and printed in a standard format. ChemAlert is also a useful tool for printing labels for decanted chemicals.

For additional information about reading MSDSs, refer to the WorkCover Guide to Reading Labels and Material Safety Data Sheets.

Chemical labelling

All chemicals and chemical mixtures must be labelled to identify their contents and provide basic health and safety information.

If a chemical is decanted from a manufacturer’s container to another container the following information must be included on the label:

  • hazard warning words or symbols (eg. HAZARDOUS)
  • ingredients, including concentrations – provide the full name not just the chemical formula
  • risk and safety phrases
  • name of the person who decanted the substance or prepared the solution
  • the date that the substances was decanted or prepared.

All of this information can be found on the manufacturer’s original label and the MSDS.

If the MSDS for the chemical or chemical mixture is listed in the ChemAlert database, ChemAlert can be used to print a compliant label.

Chemical risk assessments

Risk assessments must be completed for all tasks involving the use of hazardous substances and/or dangerous goods in accordance with the University's WHS Risk Management Program.

The risk assessment process for tasks involving hazardous substances and dangerous goods will include the following steps:

  • Reviewing the MSDS for the substances involved to identify the nature and severity of potential health effects and/or the potential for dangerous reactions, fire, explosion etc.
  • Considering the proposed work process including the work environment (eg. space, ventilation), quantities of the substances used, the practical experience of the person carrying out the work and the number of people affected by the work.
  • Identifying the possible routes of exposure; the likelihood of exposure; the likelihood of a dangerous reaction, fire, explosion occurring during the work process; and the associated risk factors.
  • Where necessary, implement additional risk controls to reduce the risk of exposure or incident.

Common risk controls for working with chemicals

The following range of risk controls are listed in priority order and are commonly referred to as the “hierarchy of controls”:

  • eliminate or outsource hazardous tasks if the risks outweigh the potential benefits.
  • substitute the chemical with a less hazardous chemical. If this is not possible investigate use of the chemical in a less hazardous form (eg. pellets instead of powder or gel instead of liquid) or use a safer process (eg. purifying solvents by filtration rather than distillation).
  • isolate the hazard by using a closed system or separating workers by distance.
  • use engineering controls including fume cupboards and local exhaust ventilation.
  • minimise the volume or concentration of chemicals used.
  • establish safe work practices including restricted access, good housekeeping, preparation for emergencies and documented safe operating procedures for frequently performed or high risk tasks.
  • provide appropriate training and supervision.
  • wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

Safe operating procedures

Procedures for frequently performed or high risk tasks must be established. These procedures must be based on the outcome of a completed risk assessment and are referred to as the safe operating procedure (SOP) for that task. Once agreed, the SOP must be documented and communicated within the workgroup.

Access to chemicals

Only staff and students with a legitimate need should have access to chemicals. Unauthorised access and activities must be prevented. Basic security controls include:

  • ensuring that the perimeters to all areas where chemicals are used or stored are secured (by key or swipe card reader) whenever unattended by staff.
  • keep the entrance doors to laboratories, workshops and studios closed, even when in use.
  • display the University’s standard “Authorised entry only” signage at the entrances to facilities where chemicals are used.
  • politely challenge strangers – “Can I help you?”.
  • keep a regular inventory of all chemicals, biological agents and equipment.

Training and supervision

All staff and students who work with chemicals must be provided with the following training:

  1. general instruction on how to identify hazardous substances and dangerous goods, and read MSDS. New research staff and student are encouraged to attend specific working with chemicals training.
  2. Specific information about the chemicals they will be working with, i.e. review of the relevant MSDS and risk assessment.
  3. Specific on the job training in the tasks to be performed including demonstration of the work to be performed and direct (face to face) supervision until they are deemed competent in the process. Achievement of competence should be documented and ongoing general supervision must also be provided.

Personal protective equipment and clothing

The personal protective equipment and clothing used when working with chemicals will vary dependant on the chemicals being handled, the tasks being carried out and the facilities being used. The minimum equipment and clothing standards for work with chemicals are:

  • enclosed/covered shoes made of non-absorbent material with a non-slip sole.
  • safety glasses or goggles
  • disposable gloves – chemically resistant
  • laboratory coat or gown made of a fire retardant material.

Planning for emergencies

Each workgroup that uses chemicals must be prepared to:

  • quickly shut-down equipment or processes so that they can be safely left unattended in the event of a building evacuation.
  • provide appropriate first aid treatment in response to chemical exposures. Refer to the MSDS for guidance.
  • respond to chemical spills and other dangerous events including fire.

Key laboratory and workshop staff from each area are encouraged to attend first attack fire fighting training.