Hazardous chemicals are substances, mixtures and articles that can pose a significant risk to health and safety if they're not managed correctly. They may have one or both of:

  • health hazards (for example, toxic chemicals)
  • physical hazards (for example, flammable liquids).

Organisations that use hazardous chemicals must:

  • identify any hazardous chemicals used in the workplace
  • make sure the risks they present are assessed and controlled.

Identifying hazardous chemicals

A safety data sheet (SDS) for any hazardous chemical used, handled or stored in a workplace must be readily accessible to all users.

These documents provide critical information about hazardous chemicals, including:

  • chemical identity and ingredients
  • health and physical hazards
  • safe handling and storage procedures
  • emergency procedures
  • disposal considerations.

You can access the SDS through Chemwatch.

Classification of hazardous chemicals

The manufacturer or importer of a substance, mixture or article is responsible for determining whether or not it is a hazardous chemical.

They must apply strict classification criteria set out in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Risk management

You must complete a risk assessment for all work involving hazardous chemicals.

A safety data sheet (SDS) is a generic document for all users, and includes information about transport, storage and industrial use of the chemical.

The recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, respirator and clothing protection, often reflect worst-case exposure scenarios.

They may not be appropriate for laboratory conditions in which small quantities of chemicals are used with high-order controls such as fume cupboards.

Use information in the SDS to help assess chemical hazards. Useful information includes:

  • exposure standards
  • exposure routes
  • acute and chronic health effects.

Safe Work Australia publishes workplace exposure standards for chemicals and guidance for interpreting them. You can search exposure standards on Safe Work Australia’s Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS).

For routine laboratory use, often the only controls needed will be a fume cupboard with the following PPE:

  • disposable nitrile gloves
  • safety glasses
  • closed-in shoes
  • lab coat.

You will likely need additional PPE or controls if the hazardous chemical is:

  • spilled
  • processed in a way that increases its hazard.

Health monitoring

When there is significant risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals, health monitoring may be required.

Hazardous chemicals for which health monitoring may be required include, but are not limited to:

Training

You must complete training before you start work with hazardous chemicals or laboratory work. Check the training and induction requirements for hazardous chemicals workers and users, and laboratory workers.