Hazardous substances/dangerous goods

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Presentation on 19 June 1995


Know your hazardous substances

It was important to identify hazardous substances said Tony Terry, Director Occupational Health of the Department of Occupational Health Safety and Welfare of WA. Tony was speaking at a CIP seminar sponsored by the WA Branch of the Australian Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association. Held on 19 June, the evening seminar was in the Willow Room at the WACA followed by dinner with about 90 attendees.

Tony said the National Model Regulations for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, to be adopted in WA within twelve months, provide guidelines for reducing risks in workplaces where hazardous substances are used.

Hazardous substances are differentiated by being included in the List of Designated Hazardous Substances or meeting the health effects detailed in the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances. The List includes some 1300 substances (with some 500 to be added).

Chemical mixtures are classified by a formula based on the concentration of the substances (using concentration cut-off levels).

(Comment; it is therefore possible to formulate products to either eliminate the hazardous substance[s] or reduce their concentration such that the mixture is deemed not to be a hazardous substance).

There are many implications for importers, manufacturers and users of hazardous substances - with implications for most workplaces.

Substances must be classified by the manufacturer or the importer (and not by users or other third parties). If deemed to be a hazardous substance, there are responsibilities to supply Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and workplace labelling. There are also strict guidelines for the workplace where hazardous substances are used.

Employers will have obligations to provide information including the MSDS, workplace labelling, induction and training, assessments, monitoring and possibly health surveillance.

The MSDS must be prepared for all hazardous substances by the manufacturer or importer (though they may employ an agent). (The Code of Practice requires an annotation declaring the substance described by the MSDS as being a hazardous substance.)

The MSDS need not be structured exactly as detailed in the Guidance Note. Overseas MSDS may be used if in the English language and incorporating Australian information such as the emergency information contact and address of the supplier. It must be available in the workplace at or before introducing the substance into the workplace.

The hazards (and potential for reduction) must be assessed for all workplaces where hazardous substances are used. (Broadly, a workplace is any place where a person goes to work.) The priority for hazard reduction is for elimination, with personal protection last. Guidance material is provided for hazard assessments with provision for a generic assessment. Generic assessment allows for similar workplaces (ie. with similar risks) to be covered by the one assessment which may be undertaken by an industry association for its members with similar operations. Monitoring (generally of the atmosphere) where indicated by an assessment, and health surveillance may also be required.

Training is a key element that must reflect the skills of the employee and the hazards of the workplace.

Consultation, with employees that could be exposed to the hazardous substance, is an important feature of the regulations. It is required before introducing a hazardous substance to the workplace.

Records are an essential component of the pending legislation. It requires the keeping of workplace registers (a listing of chemicals used in the workplace), and other records including training, assessments, monitoring and health surveillance for periods of between 5 and 30 years.

Remco Van Santen opened the evening's presentation with a series of overheads selected from the the training program prepared by ACTED that point to employer liabilities. In essence, due diligence cannot be delegated!

A sample of court cases was provided. Though complying with legislative requirements, the courts have ruled a supplier liable for inadequately labelling an aerosol pack that led to a person being burnt while smoking. Another example was where a worker successfully claimed damages through failing to wear protective glasses contrary to the explicit directions of the employer. The court ruled engineering controls could have been installed as it is reasonable to expect that eye protection (like any other personal protection) could be misused or even oversighted. Other examples clearly illustrate workplace legislation provides sensible guidelines for safe operation.

Remco pointed out that the MSDS is a legal document. It is feasible that a user could claim to have been injured by acting on the information in good faith and sue the manufacturer or importer. It is therefore in the interest of suppliers to ensure comprehensive MSDS.

The adoption of the legislation will have a significant influence on many operations involved with hazardous substances with practical and commercial implications. The nimble footed will see the opportunities where others see costs.

The refreshment break was followed by two presentations from the DG Branch of the Mines Department.

Gino Valenti, Manager Dangerous Goods Storage Branch referred to licensing requirements and compliance with the Dangerous Goods Regulations being phased in but with full compliance for new sites. Some 3 000 applications for licensing had been received.

Self regulation by industry was encouraged with legislation requiring industry to manage the risks that they generate as promoted by AVCA for the agricultural sector. Gino encouraged ACSPA to be proactive in highlighting compliance achievements as his Department would be supportive in times of crisis (eg. accidents) or for new initiatives. Also the bad guys will receive appropriate publicity in the Department's newsletter Explosay. Part of promoting self management is the requirement for delivery of bulk goods only to be to licensed premises (with the keeping of records of delivery). The consignor should satisfy that the recipient is licensed (for new customers - ie. since the promulgation of the legislation) that could include referral to the Branch.

A range of measures was identified by Gino that are required for compliance including fire protection, emergency planning, safe working procedures, training, placarding and the keeping of records. Where practicable, performance-based regulations call up Australian Standards.

John Hanley, Manager Dangerous Goods Transport Branch provided details about the development of national uniform dangerous goods transport legislation.

In '91 and '92 the Premiers signed to adopt national legislation by the template approach. It now appears they may instead mirror legislation. This could lead to inconsistencies, at least in the short term, as changes have to be adopted in their own jurisdictional law.

The ADG Code would in future assume the role more of a code of practice with much of the obligation detail to be included in national transport legislation.

The Emergency Procedure Guides are anticipated to be replaced by the compact Canadian Initial Emergency Response Guide - a booklet with about fifty double page guidelines.

Post presentation discussion confirmed an interest in similar targeted presentations.


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