Handling chemicals safely

Although workplace accidents involving industrial chemicals are trending downwards, they are still a real possibility. And it is the responsibility of business owners to safeguard against them.

Chemicals are an indispensable part of the modern world. Just about every industry – from mining to food and from IT to health care – uses chemicals in some way.

However, chemicals can be dangerous and must be handled with care. Not just by the chemicals industry and other sectors which use large volumes of them, but by all businesses which use them.

Extreme cases, like the recent deadly explosion at a hazardous storage facility in the Chinese city of Tianjin receive all the media attention.

Most businesses have no reason to fear anything approaching the scale of that tragedy, but they have to realise that chemical inhalation, burns (and even small scale explosions) are some of the possible adverse consequences of poor chemical handling.

The responsibility to minimise such incidents lies with businesses.

As Safe Work Australia’s Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace states, businesses involved in chemical handling are obliged to provide information, training, instruction and supervision of these tasks not only to workers but also to other persons at the workplace such as visitors.

So what should businesses do to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations?

The first thing for them to consider is personal protective equipment (PPE). They must supply staff with the right gear and training to ensure they know how and when to use it.

And they must ensure that they do use it when necessary. There is not much point having PPE if it remains hidden away in storage.

Companies involved in chemical handling must also consider safe working practices. Staff need to know the safest and best ways to handle various chemicals. And they need to know what to do in the case of an accident or an emergency. They need to know who to call and how to assist anybody who has been injured.

Nevertheless, in Australia workplace accidents involving chemicals do happen and they do result in injuries or even death.

The good news is that they are becoming less frequent. According to Safe Work Australia, the number of serious workers’ compensation claims caused by chemicals and other substances fell by 29 per cent between 2000 and 2011. And for the year 2013 (the latest year reported on) there were no workplace fatalities caused by chemicals.

The task for business owners therefore is to help make workplace injuries involving chemical handling fall even further. Training has to be the key aspect of this effort.

For more information on the chemicals handling training provided by CRC, download this white paper.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.