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Hazardous materials at work

Workplace chemicals and fuels can be classified as dangerous goods, hazardous substances or both. Incidents involving chemicals and fuels can result in explosions or fire, causing death or serious injury, as well as large scale damage to property and the surrounding environment. Unsafe use can also cause cancer, poisoning, burns, blindness and other serious health problems.

Keep an up-to-date list of all the chemicals and fuels at your workplace and a copy of the manufacturer’s or importer’s material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each product.

Refer to the MSDS for information on how to safely use and store the product, how it can affect your health, first aid measures and any personal protective equipment that may need to be worn.

Safety tips

  • Store incompatible chemicals and fuels separately
  • Store chemicals in a dedicated, well-ventilated storage area
  • Use bund wall (Bunding) to capture any spills or leaks
  • Make sure all chemicals and fuels are clearly labelled
  • Do not store chemical and fuels in empty food and drink containers
  • Make sure lids are secured on containers of chemicals and fuels
  • Keep flammable chemicals and fuels away from ignition sources (anything that can cause a spark or a flame such as power points, machines or equipment)
  • Display placarding (signs) outside your workplace if you store certain quantities of dangerous goods
  • Purchase smaller quantities and safer chemicals (eg granular products instead of dusty powders; water-based products instead of solvent based; more dilute chemicals)
  • Minimise spills and splashes by using safe pouring or decanting techniques
  • Ensure spill absorbent material is available to safely clean up spills
  • Use local exhaust ventilation to extract/capture dust, fumes or vapours away from the operator
  • Train supervisors, workers, contractors and first aiders in procedures for accidental consumption, splashes, spill contamination or other chemical or fuel emergencies
  • Dispose of any chemical or fuels you don’t use anymore (contact your local council, local tip, chemical waste disposal company.)
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, face shields, safety glasses or respirators if necessary and making sure PPE is used, cleaned and maintained properly.

In an Emergency

In case of spills or leaks of hazardous materials at work

Remain calm - remember RACE

RESCUE

Rescue any people in immediate danger (only if it safe to do so).

ALARM

Raise the alarm

  • ring Triple Zero on 000
  • notify your switchboard
  • notify the staff member in charge

CONTAIN

Only if you are trained and it is safe to do so, then:

  • contain the danger area, and
  • attend to the emergency eg contain spill or leak, isolate gas and electricity etc.

EVACUATE

Evacuate staff/visitors to a safe assembly area.

Continuity tips

  • Ensure that all of your staff have sufficient training and know what they should do if your small business is exposed to an unexpected fire.
  • Make sure you know what information is important for your business continuity. This should include having contingency plans to protect and/or restore all important information (hard copy and IT) like supplier and client lists, business contracts and insurance details.
  • Always ensure your business has sufficient fire insurance.
  • If your staff require training or you need assistance with emergency procedures, contact Commercial Fire Safety Training [external link] on 1800 78 78 48.

For more information contact your local fire station.