How To Identify Which Chemicals Are Hazardous?

How To Identify Which Chemicals Are Hazardous

The first step in managing risks involves identifying all the chemicals that are used, handled, stored or generated at your workplace in consultation with workers. The identity of chemicals in the workplace can usually be determined by looking at the label and the SDS, and reading what ingredients are in each chemical or product. In some cases, a chemical may not have a label or an SDS, for example where fumes are generated in the workplace from an activity such as welding.

A manufacturer or importer must determine the hazards of a chemical against specified criteria. This process is known as classification, and it is the hazard classification of a chemical that determines what information must be included on labels and SDS, including the type of label elements, hazard statements and pictograms.

Manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels and SDS, and must review the information on them at least once every five years or whenever necessary to ensure the information contained in the SDS is correct, for example, new information on a chemical may lead to a change in its hazard classification. Specific guidance on what a manufacturer or importer must include in an SDS and label can be found in:

  • Code of Practice: Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals.
  • Code of Practice: Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals.
Health Effects Of Mercury & Waste Anesthetic Gases

You should always read the label in conjunction with the SDS to make sure all chemical hazards are identified. In other cases, product specification sheets may provide information of the types of hazardous chemicals generated during a process, or by researching other sources such as codes of practice or guidance documents on the process.

The manufacturer, importer or supplier may also provide further information about the hazardous chemical. Information on chemicals can also be found in the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database.

Hazardous chemicals that are contained in plant forming part of a manufacturing process, such as a piping system, must also be identified. This to ensure controls can be implemented in the event of an accidental rupture or spill or when maintenance or cleaning is required.


Some processes will produce hazardous chemicals as by-products or waste. These hazards may not be easily identified when generated at the workplace, for example, hydrogen sulphide in a sewer or diesel exhaust fume from truck engines. Information on by-products may be available from an SDS, but not always.

You should find out what hazardous chemicals may be produced from work activities, for example: use of welding rods may liberate toxic fumes and vapours, grinding metals release toxic metal dust or fumes, off-gassing of solvent vapours from glues used to manufacture timber products such as Medium Density Fibre (MDF), and dust released from machining timbers are hazardous to health or can present a dust explosion risk.

If you produce or generate hazardous chemicals in the workplace, you must manage the risks associated with those chemicals.

Once you have identified which chemicals are hazardous, you must prepare, maintain and keep a register of hazardous chemicals at the workplace, and a manifest if any Schedule 11 hazardous chemicals are above the prescribed limits (see Section 1.6 of this Code).

Chemical Safety Quiz

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