Dealing with Hazardous Substances in the Workplace

Skin rashes, poisoning, lung disorders, and kidney and liver problems are some of effects suffered by people exposed to hazardous chemicals and substances. An estimated quarter of all Victorian workers use hazardous substances in their workplaces.

Hazardous substances may be in the form of powder, gas, liquid, dust or solid. They may be pure or diluted.

Common hazardous substances

Many agricultural, industrial and medical organisations use hazardous substances. The level of hazard usually depends on the concentration of the chemical.

Some hazardous substances commonly used in the workplace include:

  1. Disinfectants
  2. Acids
  3. Caustic substances
  4. Paint
  5. Glues
  6. Pesticides
  7. Solvents
  8. Heavy metals, including leady, mercury, aluminium and cadmium
  9. Petroleum products


Possible health effects

Health effects vary depending on the type of hazardous substance and the level of exposure – the duration and concentration. They also depend on whether the person inhaled, swallowed or splashed the substance onto their eyes or skin.

Some of the possible health effects can include:

  1. Chemical burns
  2. Headache
  3. Nausea and vomiting
  4. Poisoning
  5. Disorders of the lung, kidney or liver
  6. Skin rashes, such as dermatitis
  7. Nervous system disorders
  8. Birth defects


Labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

The importers and manufacturers of hazardous substances are legally obliged to provide warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that gives safe handling practices for their products.

Employers must make the MSDS for every hazardous substance used in the workplace available to workers, and establish a central register of hazardous substances. Warning labels on products may feature cautionary words such as ‘poison’, ‘hazardous, or ‘corrosive’.

The MSDS lists important information for safely handling the product, including:

  1. Emergency first aid instructions
  2. Potential health effects
  3. Precautions for use
  4. Reducing exposure
  5. Contact numbers for further information.
  6. Safe storage suggestions


Suggestions for reducing exposure

  1. If possible, do not use hazardous substances.
  2. If possible, use less toxic alternatives.
  3. Use separate storage areas to isolate workers from hazardous substances.
  4. Ventilate storage areas separately from the rest of the workplace.
  5. Train workers thoroughly in handling and safety procedures.
  6. Wear personal protection equipment such as gloves, goggles and respirators.
  7. Monitor the workplace regularly using appropriate equipment to track the amount of hazardous substance in the air or environment.
  8. Consult with workers regularly to maintain and improve safety and handling practices.


Written records

If using hazardous substances in the workplace, you must maintain certain records, including:

  1. Risk assessment details
  2. Air and environment test results, if required
  3. Health monitoring details of workers, if required
  4. Professional advice


What to do if exposed to a hazardous substance

See your doctor immediately for information, treatment and referral if you suspect you are exposed to any hazardous substance. Notify your employer and try not to handle the hazardous substance again. In an emergency, dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Dangerous goods storage containment

Sitecraft has a wide range of storage containment options that includes: