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".

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. There are also additional requirements with some chemicals including Carcinogens, Asbestos and Lead.

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 re-labelled, 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.

Guidelines and forms - hazardous substances and dangerous goods

Manager's responsibilities - 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.

Material Safety Data Sheets and ChemWatch

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. ChemWatch a licensed web-based chemical information system available online through the staff intranet. A computerised training package for ChemWatch can be obtained from the Health, Wellbeing and Safety team.

ChemWatch can also be consulted to assist with interpretation of labels and working out whether a chemical is a hazardous substance or dangerous good. Contact the Health, Wellbeing and Safety team for further advice on chemical identification.

Registers and University dangerous good manifest

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. 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.

The Health, Wellbeing and Safety team 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.

Nominated officers

The Pro Vice-Chancellor's of the Faculties of Arts, Health, and Science, Engineering and Built Environment, the Executive Director, Institute for Technology Research and Innovation and the directors of the Facilities Services Division, Information eSolutions and Campus Services 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 Health, Wellbeing and Safety team. 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, HWS should be contacted for advice.

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 (PDF, 51.8 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 Facilities Services as to appropriate disposal methods for asbestos-containing equipment or materials. The Health, Wellbeing and Safety team is to be informed of any such disposal.

Facilities 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 Health, Wellbeing and Safety team 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.

Chemicals scheduled under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are tightly controlled. These chemicals are divided listed into 3 categories (schedules). Research and development activities are included in the Convention. Further details are contained in the Chemical Weapons Convention: A Guide for Australian Industry Producing, Using or Trading Chemicals

Tertiary education institutions in Victoria are exempt from licensing approvals under the following conditions:

  • the HCDG is for the purposes of educational instruction, research or testing; and
  • that the quantity does not exceed 3 kg per area.

At present only two chemical are declared to be HCDG are:

  • ammonium nitrate in concentrations > 45%
  • calcium ammonium nitrate in concentrations > 45%.

More information can be found on the WorkSafe website including the Dangerous Goods (HCDG) Regulations 2005.

Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Precursor Supply) Regulations

Since 1 January 2011 End User Declarations (EUD) are mandatory for prescribed Precursor Chemicals and Equipment under Part VB of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. The Regulations prescribe precursor chemicals and precursor apparatus. The supply of precursor chemicals mixed with other substances is excluded.

Suppliers of chemicals and equipment (such as Merck and Sigma Aldrich) will need an End User Declaration from the purchaser for every request to supply. Note: If an EUD is not received, the chemical/equipment cannot be supplied until it is obtained. The EUD needs to be completed by the receiving person responsible for the end use, i.e. the person who receives and knows the intended use of the chemical or equipment (e.g. the research scientist or lab manager), not the transport or store persons in between.

Further details including the Schedules can be found in the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Precursor Supply) Guidelines (PDF, 44.2 KB) . A blank EUD can be found at End-User Declaration (EUD) Illicit Drug Precursors (DOC, 37.5 KB)

Workplace chemicals regulatory framework

In July 2009 Safe Work Australia members agreed to use the Draft National Standard for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals as the policy basis for new model OHS regulations for workplace chemicals. The new workplace chemicals model regulations will be supported by a suite of additional regulatory material.

Proposed revisions to the workplace chemicals regulatory framework

Useful links

Risk assessments

COSHH Essentials - control health risks from chemicals
This online system takes you through the steps in carrying out a hazardous chemical risk assessment. The system relies upon you having a material safety data sheet that uses European risk statements.

ChemWatch - refer to the ChemWatch webpage for login details.


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