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Hazardous and Dangerous Substances

If you are planning to work with any substance or material that can cause harm to health, cause fire, or have significant impact on the environment, you need to assess and manage any risk.

What are hazardous and dangerous substances?

Any solid, liquid, fume, dust or gas including manufactured products and chemical reagents which when being handled, used or stored can cause harm to health, cause a fire or have significant impact on the environment. Examples include solvents, paints, varnishes, flammable, corrosive and asphyxiant gases, dusts including chemical powders, machining and sanding operations, dusts from foodstuffs, pressurised gases and substances corrosive to metal.

What Regulations Apply

  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. (Note there are also other regulations that cover biological agents).
  • Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR)
  • Fire Regulations
  • Lead at Work Regulations

Hazard Assessment – Working with chemicals or materials that can cause harm

What is it that I want to work with?

If a purchased chemical product, look at the SDS (safety Data Sheet):

Hazard and Precautionary Statements or the older Risk and Safety Phrases will provide good information on the hazard potential. This is needed for you to determine whether the material is a Low, Medium or High hazard chemical (using the Hazard Grid)

If you are working with a material that does not have a SDS (such as wood, metal, flour or pigeon excrement) then look at hazard information using the internet, often there is good information provided by relevant industry bodies.

Risk Assessment – Working with chemicals or materials that can cause harm to health

There are a number of things you need to consider when establishing the risk to health. You need to start with understanding the hazard potential and then work out what harm it can do to you or others:

How much are you intending to use?

Generally the more you use, the more risk it is likely to present.

What can it do to me or others?

Consider the form of the material (is it in solid form like a granule or a powder, or is it a liquid, fume or gas?). The form of the material will have an impact on how easy it may be for the material to enter the body.

Consider how you intend to work with it. The way you work with a material could alter its form.

How can it enter your body? (Could it be injected, ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin as a result of how you intend to work with the material?) The way in which you work with the material may alter this significantly. Do not just copy and paste from the safety data sheet!

Could it catch fire / explode in the quantities being used and the method of use? Don't forget that the more you use the greater the risk here. Is there also anything else in the space that could trigger a fire or explosive event when you work with the material?

How can I make sure it doesn’t cause harm or damage?

For formulated materials (eg glues, paints, oils etc.) to be used as per their recommended application - follow manufacturer’s instructions for use

It may be useful to develop a simple procedure to follow for a similar group of materials where the general instructions are the same. Always include the safe way to work with the materials, how to dispose of safely and actions to be taken should an accidental exposure to the product occur or there is a spillage.

For chemical reagents, follow good lab practice. Review journals and other suitable resources and ensure the information contained in the safety data sheet is consulted to derive the most appropriate control measures.

How do I know how far to go with the assessment? General expectation:

Low hazard material, using low volumes – simple assessment

Very low hazard materials, high volumes – simple assessment

Medium or high hazard material, regular use or moderate volumes - detailed specific assessment, although regular or routine tasks involving the materails may be subject to standard procedures and/or standard risk assessment

When the hazard is unknown or uncertain, then assume a detailed specific assessment is required

How do I know my assessment is good enough?

I understand the behaviour of the materials

I understand how its use can present a risk

I have taken steps to remove or reduce the risk

I have recorded and communicated the information in the assessment to others that could be affected by my work.