While most of us have chemicals either onboard or ashore do we handle and store them correctly?
Failure to handle and store chemicals of any sort can lead to injuries, health problems and damage to the vessel, workplace and the environment.
Every year in Australia over 2,000 workers die as a result of occupational exposure to hazardous substances. Only 30 – 40 of these are due to poisoning, many of the other deaths result from long latency, e.g., cancer.
Vessel and workplace damage can be repaired but environmental damage comes with penalties that can cause major financial disruption and even bankruptcy to owners and operators.
To avoid that you need to ensure you comply with two things, those being:
- The Code of Practice for Managing the risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Note this means onboard vessels as well.
- The handling and storing details in the products Safety Data Sheet (SDS). You do have SDS’s for all your chemicals onboard or onsite, not just the hazardous ones don’t you?
This newsletter provides a brief outline of your requirements for the handling and storing of chemicals. If you need further information please feel free to contact our office.
Firstly, SDS are required for all chemicals stored onboard or onsite and are required to be stored in a location that is accessible to all people onboard or in the workplace. More on SDS next week.
A Hazardous Chemicals Register which contains a list of all hazardous chemicals onboard or at your workplace. This register is a requirement under WHS Regulations and should be accompanied by the current SDS for each of those chemicals.
The handling of chemicals can cause serious injury and/or illness and death in some cases. Ensuring you comply with the handling instructions and PPE requirements listed in the SDS is critical to your health and safety.
Storage of hazardous chemicals including flammable and combustible liquids must be in an approved storage containers and a space designed and constructed in accordance with AS1940.
Special care must be taken when storing hazardous chemicals due to cross contamination with incompatible materials which can result in explosion, fire, toxic fumes/gases or other potentially harmful situations.
When handling hazardous chemicals or material ensure you follow the handling precautions contained in the products SDS at all times.
The storage of non-hazardous chemicals must be in accordance with the storage instructions contained in the products SDS.
As with all chemicals always refer to and follow the handling instructions contained in the products SDS.
PPE is a major issue as many people either don’t know what PPE to use or simply fail to use it for whatever reason. Business and vessel owners and operators are responsible for ensuring the appropriate PPE is readily available to all workers and crew members.
What are hazardous substances?
Hazardous substances are substances that have the potential to harm people’s health in the medium or long term. They can be solids, liquids or gases, and when used in the workplace, they are often in the form of fumes, dusts, mists and vapours.
Examples of hazardous substances include:
- acute toxins such as cyanide,
- substances harmful after repeated or prolonged exposure such as mercury and silica,
- corrosives such as sulphuric acid and caustic soda,
- irritants such as ammonia,
- sensitising agents such as isocyanates and
- carcinogens (cancer causing substances) such as benzene and vinyl chloride.
How can exposure affect your health?
Hazardous substances can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin and can cause both immediate and long-term health problems. Health effects depend on the type of hazardous substance and the level of exposure. Some of the potential health effects can include:
Injuries and symptoms are also dependant on a variety of variables including length, quality and frequency of exposure, history and method of exposure, training received, sensitivity to the substance, general health and height and weight.
We recommend that as a vessel or business owner or operator you should assess the health risk associated in working with hazardous substances. To do this we recommend you should know:
- what the substance is.
- whether the substance is hazardous or not.
- how the substance is used (and misused) in the work process.
- if there is a chance of a person being exposed to the hazardous substances, how much they are exposed to, for how long and how often they are exposed.
- how to use this knowledge to assess the risk to a person’s health.
The best tip we can give is to ensure you have SDS for all chemicals stored onboard your vessel or in your workplace and they are current. Having them is one thing but ensure they are easily accessible to all relevant workers, and they know where they are.
There is a twist to this requirement that if you purchase a household use product from a general retailer in domestic use sizes then a SDS is not required. Even though it’s not required it’s still a good idea to have one if you purchase any quantities household use product.
So, what is a Safety Data Sheet. These provide detailed information about chemicals including:
- the identity of the chemical product and its ingredients;
- the hazards of the chemical including health, physical and environmental hazards;
- physical properties of the chemical, like boiling point, flash point and incompatibilities with other products;
- workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants;
- safe handling and storage procedures
- what to do in the event of an emergency or spill;
- first aid information; and
- transport information