Chemical Risk Management: Hierarchy of Actions
Controlling chemical hazards
The Australian Code of Practice “Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace” provides business with a number of ways to control the hazards associated with dangerous chemicals. Some control measures are more effective and reliable than others, so a Hierarchy of Action was developed which ranks control activities from highest to lowest.
Note: Check with your state or territory regulator to find out how your local Code of Practice applies.
Hierarchy of Actions in Risk Management
For those implementing a risk management process the first, and most effective action is to Eliminate the Hazard. Chemical elimination is the best way to remove all risks associated with the use of a toxic product. If at all practical and feasible, completely removing the hazard is the best way to protect everyone in the workplace and the most effective risk management measure.
When the business cannot discontinue the task or process involving a chemical product, safer Chemical Substitution is the next best course of action for risk management. A wide range of non-toxic and low-hazard substitutes are available for many common hazardous chemicals. These substitutes are often as effective or more effective than the traditional chemicals they replace.
Isolating the area where a hazardous chemical is used, and limiting worker exposure is the next most effective course of action if an effective, safer substitute is not available or can not feasibly be implemented because of cost or infrastructure issues.
The next step down the Hierarchy is Engineering Controls which includes sophisticated monitoring and ventilation systems to make sure exposure to dangerous chemicals is managed to acceptable levels.
Administrative Controls include all formal training, labelling and workplace procedures relating to the use, transport, storage and disposal of dangerous chemicals. These controls rely on human behaviour and are amongst the least effective at managing the risk to workers.
Finally, the last line of defence for protecting workers is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All other efforts must be made to remove, substitute or control the risk through means further up the Hierarchy of Actions before implementing this option. PPE is only effective at managing risks if the equipment is used correctly and consistently with proper training and supervision.
According to the National Code of Practice the actions above should be followed in order. This means that all efforts possible must be made to Eliminate the Hazard completely or find a Safer Substitute before looking for ways to reduce risks associated with a hazardous substance.