Under the kitchen sink – are you compliant?

by 17 Nov 2009

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 your vehicle.

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 around unattended.

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 www.easyhr.com.au