How can my local government manage chemical handling risks?

Risk Matters - Autumn 2020

Picture of Emma Horsefield

Emma Horsefield

Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) program manager

Emma’s role provides a hands-on approach to members to understand the issues and ensure success. Emma conducts safety inductions, training, workplace inspections, OSH system audits, incident investigations, risk assessments, and further advice and support on a range of safety matters. She has 15 years’ experience in management and consultancy roles. In recent years, she dedicated her career to health and safety.

With the vast array of operations performed by and services local governments provide to their communities, there are many roles and functions which require the handling of chemical or hazardous substances.

These roles are found in the following facilities (among others):

  • Aquatic centres and pools
  • Depots
  • Maintenance workshops
  • Waste treatment facilities and transfer stations
  • Parks and gardening

There are several risks associated with handling chemicals or hazardous substances, and though these risks vary depending on the type of substance, the way it is being used, and the type of work being carried out, the following should be considered:

Type of chemical

For example, carcinogens are a substance or a mixture which cause cancer. Unlike the many other toxic health effects of chemicals, a carcinogenic effect may take many years to develop and there may be no early warning of adverse effects. For the majority of carcinogens, there is no safe level of exposure. It is essential your workers and workplace comply with WA guidelines regarding the handling of carcinogenic chemicals in particular.

Route of exposure

Usually occurs through inhalation, absorbtion, or ingestion. Exposure through these methods can result in acute or chronic health issues.

Community exposures

Local governments have many facilities with the potential to expose not only workers but also members of the public.

Chemical exposure (e.g. inflammation to eyes/skin, etc.)
0 claims
Chemical burns
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Chemical inhalation
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Who is responsible?

Both the local government and its employees are responsible.

As an employer, your local government has a duty to manage the risks to health and safety associated with purchasing, using, handling, generating and storing hazardous chemicals at your workplace. This includes:

  • Ensuring workers exposure to harmful chemicals is minimised
  • Keeping up to date records of chemicals used on site
  • Providing adequate information, training, instructions and warnings about chemicals being used
  • Ensuring that exposure standards are not exceeded
  • Where required monitoring the health of employees likely to be exposed to these chemicals
  • Ensuring safe storage of chemicals away from potential ignition sources
  • Providing a safe process of dealing with accidental discharge and spills
  • Preparing an emergency plan, and if the quantity of a class of hazardous chemical at a workplace exceeds the manifest quantity for that hazardous chemical, ensure that a copy of the emergency plan is readily available to your local emergency services
  • Notifying the regulator as soon as practicable of abandoned tanks in certain circumstances

Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must comply with instructions, as far as they are reasonably able to, and cooperate with health and safety policies or procedures that have been provided to workers.

Examples of such relevant policies and procedures that could be provided to the employee include:

  • Hazardous substances register
  • Hazardous substance risk assessment
  • Material safety data sheets

If personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided by the local government, the worker must use or wear it in accordance with the information, instruction and training provided.

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How can the risks be controlled?

The below risk management approach can be adapted to the safe management, storage and handling of chemicals and dangerous goods to lessen potential adverse effects on humans and the environment.

Steps to control a chemical hazard

When making a decision on how best to control a risk, the most effective way is to eliminate the hazard and associated risk first. If this is not reasonably practicable, the risk must be minimised by using the hierarchy of control as shown below:

Assessment effectiveness

However, training in the safe handling of chemicals is required by law. It is always worthwhile to consider additional controls in the storing and handling of chemicals, including ongoing training, awareness, and supervision; understanding the incompatibility of different chemicals; and spill response processes and kits. In some cases, a combination of controls may be used to achieve greater control of the risk identified. For more information on how to manage your local government’s risks around chemical handling, contact the LGIS occupational safety and health team or your regional risk coordinator on 9483 8888. The team have toolkit documents available and can assist in risk assessments and implementing controls.

Have a question you'd like answered?

Each month we take your questions to one of our LGIS team members to answer.

If you want to submit a question for next issue, email us at [email protected].

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