Chemical Hazard Assessment
Once you have identified a hazardous chemical, the next step is to assess specifically how the chemical may cause a health or safety hazard in your workplace.
The product label and SDS gives you information to evaluate hazardous chemicals against the following criteria:
Assessing Health Hazards
- The routes of entry of a hazardous chemical helps determine the health hazards. Does the chemical cause harm though inhalation, ingestion or coming into direct contact with eyes or skin? What are the health implications of that chemical? A substance known to cause cancer or birth defects may be treated very differently from a substance which is only mildly irritating. Knowing what potential for harm a chemical carries can help you plan for its safe use (or removal from the workplace).
- The physical form and concentration of the hazardous chemical is also important. Some substances are dangerous in one form, such as powder which can be easily inhaled, but not in another state, such as a solid. Some chemicals are categorised as safe at certain concentrations but dangerous at others. Knowing in which states and at which concentrations a chemical may be safe are important factors in determining the overall risk profile of the substance across transport, handling, usage and disposal processes.
- The chemical and physical properties of a hazardous chemical including how it behaves in certain environments, temperatures and when mixed with other substances must be assessed against conditions in the workplace to determine risk. For example, a liquid chemical may create a poisonous gas when mixed with water.
- Exposure standards are currently acceptable limits for people to be exposed to specific hazardous chemicals in certain conditions. Some exposure standards require sophisticated ventilation systems and protective equipment. Employers may also be required to conduct regular monitoring to make sure these limits are not exceeded.
Assessing Physiochemical Hazards
- Fire and explosion hazards have to be assessed for a chemical which is volatile and flammable in any state. Chemicals which tend to evaporate easily and are explosive are extremely dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.
- The ignition sources within the workplace have to be identified. This includes areas where flammable hazardous chemicals are used. Ignition sources can include open flames, static electricity and even other chemicals which may spark an explosion.
- The temperature and pressure of dangerous chemicals are other very important considerations. Chemicals have very different “safe” ranges relating to both of these factors.
- Some chemicals are oxidisers and can react strongly with other substances. Assessing how a chemical may react with other substances in the workplace allows for effective strategies to be developed to avoid incidents.
- Chemical corrosives can cause a surface destructive effect on contact. For this reason, it is very important to know the correct conditions for storage, including any incompatibilities.
NEXT STEP: Controlling Chemical Hazards