Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
The manufacturer or importer must prepare a safety data sheet for the hazardous chemical before first manufacturing or import the hazardous chemical or as soon as practicable after the first manufacturing or import and before first supplying it to a workplace.
The manufacturer or importer of the hazardous chemical must provide the current safety data sheet for the hazardous chemical to any person if the person:
- is likely to be affected by the hazardous chemical, and
- asks for the safety data sheet.
The supplier must provide the current safety data sheet for the hazardous chemical when the chemical is first supplied to the workplace and if the SDS is amended, when the hazardous chemical is first supplied to the workplace after the SDS is amended
A person conducting a business or undertaking must obtain the safety data sheet (and any amended version) for a hazardous chemical from the manufacturer, importer or supplier no later than when the chemical is first supplied at the workplace or as soon as practicable after it is first supplied but before it is used in the workplace.
The SDS contains information on the identity of the product and any hazardous ingredients, potential health effects, toxicological properties, physical hazards, safe use, handling and storage, emergency procedures, and disposal requirements specific to the chemical.
If the SDS for a hazardous chemical is not supplied, you must contact either the manufacturer, importer or supplier to obtain one before the chemical is used in the workplace.
Important hazard information to note from the SDS includes:
This information will be present on the SDS in the form of hazard statements, for example, “may cause cancer” or “flammable liquid”.
The route of entry
This information is important as it lets you assess the health risks to your workers. Routes of entry can include inhalation (breathing it in), skin contact, ingestion (swallowing it), eye contact and injection through high-pressure equipment.
Depending on the substance, the severity of the harm could range from minor to major, for example, from minor skin irritation to chronic respiratory disease. Some chemicals may not be hazardous by all routes of entry. For example, silica is hazardous only by inhalation so the risk assessment needs to consider how inhalation could occur in the workplace.
Advice or warnings for at-risk workers
The SDS may also include summaries of toxicological data, or advice or warnings for people that might be at risk, such as
- people who are sensitised to particular chemicals
- warnings for pregnant women
- people with existing medical conditions such as asthma.
Instructions on storage
This may include advice on not to store with certain incompatible materials or advice on potential hazardous degradation products.
Examples include – storage of acids and bases or storage instructions to avoid formation of explosive peroxides in ether during extended storage
Physicochemical properties can have a significant effect on the hazard. Some key properties to note include:
- physical state: is it solid, liquid or gas? if solid – what is the potential for dust explosion?
- if liquid – is it mobile/viscous/volatile/miscible?
- if gas (and vapours) – is it lighter/heavier than air?
- flashpoint, fire point and explosive limits
- particle size
- vapour pressure
- solubility and pH
- boiling and/or freezing point or range
- electrical and/or heat conductivity
- the nature and concentration of combustion products.
Use situations that may generate hazardous chemicals
Examples may include:
- use of welding rods which may liberate hazardous fumes and vapours
- directions for use of chlorine bleach, warning that harmful levels of chlorine gas may be generated if the substance is mixed with incompatible chemicals
- warnings that some metals, including alkali metals, in contact with water or acids, liberate flammable gas
- information on by-products or breakdown products like the formation of explosive peroxides in the ether
The SDS should contain information on environmental hazards and risks. An awareness of this information will assist you to meet any environmental laws in your state or territory
Chemicals which are generally for domestic use and considered safe in the home may present greater risks in the workplace depending on the manner and quantities in which they are used. This is particularly relevant, for example, where domestic cleaning chemicals are purchased from a supermarket and used in a workplace environment. You should always follow label directions. However, if you are using a domestic chemical in a manner different to normal household use, you should also obtain the SDS in order to determine the level of risks to workers and the appropriate controls. The SDS should contain more detailed information on hazards and risks, for example on incompatibilities with other chemicals and risks from use in enclosed areas.
PROVIDING ACCESS TO SDS IN THE WORKPLACE
A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure the current SDS is readily accessible to workers who use the hazardous chemical at the workplace and an emergency service worker, or anyone else, who is likely to be exposed to the hazardous chemical
Decide who should do the assessment for chemical safety
Assessments are based on a thorough understanding of what happens, or might happen, in the workplace and should be carried out by a person or persons who have:
- a practical understanding of the WHS Regulations, codes of practice and relevant guidance materials
- an understanding of the work processes involved in the workplace
- enough resources to gather information, consult the appropriate people, review existing records and examine the workplace.
The person or persons should also have abilities to:
- Interpret the information on the label and SDS of the hazardous chemical
- Observe the conditions of work and to foresee potential problems
- Communicate effectively and consult with workers, contract workers, managers and technical specialists
- Draw all the information together in a systematic way to form valid conclusions about exposures and risks
- Accurately report the findings to all parties concerned.
A single person such as a supervisor may be suitably competent to perform simple assessments. In more complex cases, several persons representing a variety of skills may need to be involved in collecting and assessing the information. This may also include workers and their health and safety representatives.
SEEKING EXTERNAL ASSISTANCE
In some cases, it may be necessary to seek external professional assistance to assist or undertake risk assessments. External assistance may be required to:
- design an air monitoring strategy
- collect and analyse samples
- interpret monitoring and testing results.
External professional assistance may also be required in the design, installation and maintenance of control measures, such as ventilation systems or fire protection systems.
Decide what sort of risk assessment is appropriate
The type of risk assessment that should be conducted will depend on the nature of the work being performed.
A basic assessment consists of:
- reviewing the label and the SDS of the hazardous chemicals and assessing the risks involved in their use
- deciding whether the hazardous chemicals in the workplace are already controlled with existing control measures, as recommended in the SDS or other reliable sources, or whether further control measures are needed.
For example, the SDS and label report that a cleaning agent may have potential skin irritation effects and may liberate a toxic gas when in contact with certain other chemicals, while in itself it is non-volatile. The assessment indicates that workers who handle this chemical will require control measures, including the use of protective clothing and gloves and that the chemical must be kept away from incompatible materials. Without such an assessment, skin irritation or intoxication by toxic gas when handling the cleaning agent could have occurred.
In a generic assessment, an assessment is made of a particular workplace, area, job or task and the assessment is then applied to similar work activities that involve the use of the chemical being assessed.
For example, a business or industry association might do a generic assessment for a number of workplaces that use, handle, generate or store identical chemicals (such as service stations or dry cleaners). When conducting a generic assessment, it is important that the workplace, tasks and hazardous chemicals being assessed are identical in characteristics, properties, potential hazards and risks. Generic assessments are not appropriate for very high-risk chemicals such as carcinogens.
A detailed assessment may be needed when there is a significant risk to health and for very high-risk chemicals such as carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants or sensitisation agents in the case of health hazards. Information on the label and SDS will allow you to determine whether the chemical has these hazards. Schedule 10 of the WHS Regulations provides further information on the hazardous chemicals that are restricted or prohibited for use (see Appendix C of this Code). A more detailed assessment may also be required when there is uncertainty as to the risk of exposure or health.
In order to complete a detailed assessment, further information may be sought and decisions were taken to:
- eliminate the uncertainty of any risks
- select appropriate control measures
- ..ensure that control measures are properly used and maintained, and
- ..determine if air monitoring or health monitoring are required.
- It may be necessary to engage external professional assistance to undertake a more detailed assessment.
STRUCTURING RISK ASSESSMENTS
Risk assessments can be simplified by evaluating the nature of the work in smaller, more manageable parts. You do not need to do a risk assessment covering each work activity in the whole workplace. Instead, evaluate the nature of the work by:
Dividing up the workplace – If it is not practicable for the workplace to be assessed as a whole, divide it into smaller units (locations/areas or processes) to make risk assessment more manageable. Walking through the workplace and looking at floor plans or process plans will help you decide how to divide up the workplace.
- Grouping similar work – Workers performing similar work or using similar substances may be grouped together if it has been established that their exposures are representative of their group. These are referred to as similarly exposed groups. In this way, you can avoid having to repeat exposure assessments for each and every worker. If the work involves a large number of different hazardous chemicals, they may be grouped on the basis of their form, properties and the way they are used or handled. This kind of grouping may be appropriate for example, where: a range of solvent-based paints containing a number of different solvents and additives are used in the same or similar way (for example, sprayed, brushed or applied with a roller)
- solvent-based liquid pesticides are used in the same or similar way (for example, decanted, mixed or sprayed)
- Examining work practices and conditions – Once you have divided the work into manageable units, you should observe and consult with workers to find out how the job is actually done. Workers may sometimes not adhere strictly to standard operating procedures for certain tasks. This could be because they have devised a more efficient and/or safer method for performing that task, or because the control measures or PPE provided make it cumbersome and difficult. Workers should be encouraged to share their views and concerns on working practices and be involved in discussions on how to improve working methods. Also, it is good practice to find out what changes in workplace activities occur during cleaning, maintenance, breakdowns and during staff absences or shortages. You should take account of any information about incidents, fires, spills, illnesses or diseases that may be related to the use of the hazardous chemical. Check your accident/ incident records. Ask those doing the work if they have experienced symptoms listed on the SDS. This information will help you to determine if exposure has been significant.
CONSIDERING BOTH HEALTH AND PHYSICOCHEMICAL RISKS
Hazardous chemicals may present an immediate or long-term risk to human health through their toxicological properties, or a risk to the safety of persons and property as a result of their physicochemical hazards.
In some cases, chemicals may present both health and physicochemical hazards, for example, solvents such as benzene, toluene and xylene.
There are many common elements to assessing risks from health and physicochemical hazards, but also several key differences in the way these risks are assessed. As a consequence, the assessment of health and physicochemical risks are discussed separately in this chapter.