Q What do I need to do to ensure that chemicals are stored and used safely in my workplace? We have chemicals under the sink and in the store room. How do I make sure we are compliant?
Chemical safety is one area in which
compliance with the relevant OHS legislation
is often overlooked. Compliance is usually
simple, provided you follow a few basic rules.
Understand what a workplace chemical
is. Most people think of thinners, turps and
fuels as workplace substances. Photocopy
toner, soaps and detergents are also workplace
substances, and, as such, the employer has an
obligation to make sure that they are used and
stored safely. Workplace substances may be
solids, liquids or gasses. They may be pure, or
they may exist in a mixed state.
Use a Material Safety Data Sheet. These
are often referred to as an MSDS and you
should have one for every substance you use,
or have in the workplace.
The MSDS will tell you everything you need
to know about a chemical, including how to
store it, use it, and first aid procedures to
follow. It’s a good idea to store MSDS on your
computer network, but you must also have a
hard copy in case the network is not available
in an emergency. Hard copies should be stored
in a central location, as well as close to, or with
the substances. For example if you are a
domestic plumber and you use a chemical
product called “Easy Drain Cleaner”, you must
have the MSDS for this substance with you in
Be careful of changing products, and not
updating the MSDS. The MSDS for “Easy
Drain cleaner” is not the same as “Super Drain cleaner”. If we change products we need to
update the MSDS register. We often find this
does not occur in offices, where detergents
and other office sprays are purchased from
the local supermarket. It is easier to keep
using the same product, even if an alternative
brand is on special.
Staff should be trained in the safe use and
storage of all chemicals that they use.
Know what goes with what. Some
chemicals should not be stored with other
chemicals. Take the time to find out what
chemicals you use, and whether they can be
stored together. Never store chemicals with
food items because a small leak or spill can
contaminate your food.
Chemical storage areas should be
locked, to prevent unauthorised access. Do
not leave containers of chemicals lying
Be aware of decanting. Often substances
are decanted into unmarked and inappropriate
containers – and spillage may occur during the
decanting process. Make sure you have a safe
system in place to minimise the risk of spillage,
and make sure if any spillage does occur it is
cleaned up safely. If decanting into a smaller
container, make sure any batch numbers on the
small container are removed because they will
no longer be correct.
Only use appropriate and clearly labelled
containers. Don’t use old drink bottles or any
container that has previously had food or drink
in it. This is inviting an accident where
someone may mistake the chemical for food.
There are a number of cases of people drinking
thinners or turps that had been stored in an
empty lemonade bottle.
Always refer to the MSDS to determine
whether the chemical can be decanted safely,
and make sure that the area you are working in
is suitably ventilated
Use Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE). Chemicals can enter your body through
the eyes, skin, mouth or nose. Always wear
appropriate PPE. Depending on the substance
used, you may be required to use a variety of
PPE. Always read the MSDS and comply with the safety requirements.
In order for your selected PPE to be
effective, it must be used and serviced
according to the manufacturers’
requirements. Remember that PPE is always
the last line of defence in relation to the
safety Hierarchy of Controls.
By Brad Nathan. director, Easy HR. 1300 667 331 or