Human Resources Division

Chemical safety

This section contains obligations for all managers and staff who store, use or dispose of chemicals, whether in administrative, teaching or research duties.

Many chemicals used in the University are regulated as "hazardous substances" and "dangerous goods". Further information including checklists and risk assessment forms can be found on the OHS website.

What are hazardous substances and dangerous goods?

A hazardous substance is one that has the potential to harm someone's health. Thousands of hazardous substances, including asbestos and carcinogens, are regulated by the OHS Act.  Hazardous substances are classified on the basis of health effects, both immediate and long-term.

A dangerous good is a substance that is corrosive, flammable, explosive, spontaneously combustible, toxic, oxidising or water-reactive. Dangerous goods are classified on the basis of immediate physical and chemical effects on property, the environment or people. Dangerous goods are regulated by the Dangerous Goods Act 1985.

(These working definitions are from WorkSafe’s guides for hazardous substances and dangerous goods. In the legislation definitions are by reference to national and international classification systems.)

Some chemicals can be both a hazardous substance and a dangerous good. Further, some hazardous substances and dangerous goods are defined as "drugs" or "poisons" under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic), and are subject to a permit system. Refer to the Poisons Guidelines (49 KB) for further information. There are also specific regulatory requirements covering carcinogens and asbestos.

Identification of hazardous substances and dangerous goods

A hazardous substance or a dangerous good is labelled by the manufacturer to indicate this. A hazardous substance has a "hazardous substance" statement (or internationally used symbols) on the container label and a dangerous good has a diamond-shaped label on the container with a class name written in it. Dangerous goods have a specific classification scheme using dangerous goods class (classes 1 – 9), subsidiary risk class and packing group (classes I, II and III).

Where a label has become detached or illegible, the chemical must be identified by analysis and relabelled, or disposed of as if it were a dangerous good and a hazardous substance.

Where intermediaries (chemical substances created only for the purpose of later use in the same project or process) or other substances "manufactured" from hazardous substances or dangerous goods are stored, even for short periods, they must be labelled accordingly.

ChemWatch

ChemWatch (refer to Chemffx for simpler version) can be consulted to assist with interpretation of labels and working out whether a chemical is a hazardous substance or dangerous good. ChemWatch is a licensed web-based chemical information system available online through the HRD website. A computerised training package for ChemWatch can be obtained from the OHS Unit.

Contact the OHS Unit for further advice on chemical identification.

Registers

Faculties, divisions and other organisational areas must keep a register of all hazardous substances and dangerous goods in their area. A sample of a register is contained in Appendix 1 of WorkSafe’s A Step by Step Guide for Managing Chemicals in the Workplace and on the OHS website. The register must be kept up to date and be accessible by all staff, students and contractors in the area who work with such chemicals.

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Material Safety Data Sheets

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is supplied with a hazardous substance or dangerous good by the manufacturer or supplier and must be kept close to the chemical. If an MSDS is missing, or is older than five years, a new one must be obtained and kept close to the chemical. An MSDS includes first aid measures and covers other health and safety matters.

Chemical safety information and Material Safety Data Sheets can also be found on ChemWatch.

Working with hazardous substances and dangerous goods

A manager of a staff member who works with hazardous substances or dangerous goods, must, for each chemical:

  • ensure that a paper copy of the MSDS is kept close to where the chemical is used or stored. “Close to” means the MSDS can be accessed within a few minutes if required.
  • implement the MSDS precautions for safe use, storage and disposal, including the avoidance of exposure above the safe exposure level
  • identify from the MSDS any remaining risks that are not controlled, including any possible exposure above the safe exposure level and any need for atmospheric monitoring, and discuss with the OHS Unit
  • check that first aid supplies, and special requirements such as burns kits and antidotes, are adequate
  • check that fire extinguishers are suitable and appropriate emergency arrangements are in place
  • update any laboratory manual or work instructions with information from the MSDS
  • if the MSDS is more than five years old, obtain a current version (from the manufacturer or online at ChemWatch)
  • go through the above steps every 6 months
  • consult with staff on management of risks

The same actions, where relevant, must be taken in respect of contractors (e.g. cleaners).

Faculties' responsibilities for students using hazardous substances and dangerous goods

Each faculty must make sure that staff who supervise students who use chemicals at the University are instructed in health and safety matters, including safety precautions, first aid and emergencies.

Nominated officers

The Pro Vice-Chancellor's of the Faculties of Arts, Health, and Science and Technology, the Executive Director, Institute for Technology Research and Innovation and the directors of the Facilities Management Services Division, Information Technology Services Division and Logistics Division must each nominate a senior officer to coordinate the health and safety matters relating to chemicals. These officers will also be points of contact for the OHS Unit. In default of a nomination, contact will be made directly with the relevant Pro Vice-Chancellor or Director.

Manufacturing and supplying hazardous substances or dangerous goods

It is possible that some areas of the University may manufacture and/or supply hazardous substances or dangerous goods to a workplace (including University premises). This could occur by combining chemicals already held. Manufacture and supply carry additional responsibilities for the University and individual staff under the legislation. The Manager, OHS should be contacted for advice.

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University dangerous goods manifests

The OHS Unit attends to the legislative requirement for keeping dangerous goods manifests for the use of the emergency services. The manifests are maintained on the basis of information obtained from organisational areas about dangerous goods held.

Carcinogens

The use of human carcinogens (i.e. cancer-causing substances) is heavily regulated. If any chemical is labelled as a carcinogen then the Carcinogen Guidelines (52 KB) must be consulted.

Asbestos

Asbestos may still be contained in buildings and equipment, commonly in the form of lagging (asbestos insulation of pipes or similar) or asbestos cement sheet. The OHS Unit maintains and keeps under review an asbestos register listing locations known to contain asbestos. Any identification of asbestos must be reported to the OHS Unit. It should be assumed that asbestos may be present in any building built before 1985.

No further purchases or acquisitions of asbestos-containing equipment are to be made at the University except for the purposes of scientific analysis or research. Before any such acquisition is made, a risk assessment is to be carried out after consultation with the OHS Unit.

Asbestos does not present a danger to health unless it is disturbed or is in such a poor state that it can become airborne. Advice is to be sought from FMSD as to appropriate disposal methods for asbestos-containing equipment or materials. The OHS Unit is to be informed of any such disposal.

FMSD is responsible for the management of asbestos-containing buildings and infrastructure across the University and the management of any work requiring the use of licensed asbestos removalists.

Lead

Working with lead should be avoided if possible. If a task involving working with lead is identified (e.g. removing lead-based paint), the OHS Unit should be contacted for advice about safeguards.

High Consequence Dangerous Goods

Some substances have been designated by Government as High Consequence Dangerous Goods because of their potential use by terrorists. At present ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate compounds and solutions with over 45% ammonia are regulated. The University is exempt for quantities less than 3 kilograms kept in any secure store. The OHS Unit should be contacted for advice regarding quantities of 3 kilograms or more. Further information can also be obtained from WorkSafe.

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3rd June 2011