by: Roy Simmons (Senior Consultant)
The awareness of dangerous potentials in any field of work activity will always help reduce the likelihood of harm to people, when they themselves take appropriate safeguard actions. Notably this requires effective communication of known phenomena and situations and at a level that persons involved can rapidly associate with their specific work activity and workplace. The following steps discuss seven steps that can lead to successful safety handling of chemicals in the workplace.
Step 1 – Provision of a fully compliant international GHS Safety Data Sheet
Instead of rambling through amounts of variable information and standards from a number of chemical classification agencies throughout the world, today we should be looking for fully compliant Globally Harmonised System (GHS) Safety Data Sheets. These data sheets are very comprehensive and technical in content, covering many different chemical characteristics and user aspects. They contain 16 mandatory sections and in the main, can only be appreciated by chemists and health and safety professionals. So let’s go on to see how this information can be used.
Step 2 – Management Assessment
The Management should carry out assessment of specific harm potentials to people and the environment resulting from their workplace activities. In business operations, health and safety managers assess a variety of specific harms that can be encountered in various processes, both to operatives in direct employment, clients and associated businesses. This assessment must also address any possible impacts on the environment. Many will recognise that this comes under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and the Environmental Regulations. Regrettably some in the past have failed in this quest by assuming that all that was required was to complete a checklist or using a computer program. This approach completely misses out what actually happens on site and the numerous workplace activities carried out by operatives. In this regard, it is recommended that a proper assessment be conducted which should include actual on-site safety inspection and assessment of the chemicals, process, usage, worker exposure, etc. It should be noted that this is a fairly technical and skilled work, which should be carried out by trained people. A record of the overall COSHH assessment should be documented.
Step 3 – Management Communication
Communication of specific hazardous processes along with identified safety and protective control measures by Management to the workforce. This step is probably the most important in the whole exercise of safety alert, that of effective communication and at the level work to which the operatives can easily understand. Today many employees in the UK, their first language is not English, or maybe they just have poor reading skills. In communicating specific hazards relating to a given work process, the provided protective equipments and control measures, it has been found that statements, pictures on the wall notice boards are too remote and have been proved to be ineffective. To be more effective, a colour coded graphic hazard identification and protective actions can be provided on a single A4 laminated sheet, which is placed directly at the operational worksite. This graphical presentation is known in industry as, Workplace Activity Safety Protection Sheet (WASPS). WASPS simply and clearly present hazards to the workforce at a glance.
Step 4 – Management Routine Inspections
Management should conduct routine inspection of PPE quality and control measures. Having put the provisions of a safety system in place, frequent inspections are required to see that they are being properly applied. Compliance in use is paramount to safety and that any shortcomings need to be recorded and revisions to practice implemented where necessary.
Step 5 – Product Packaging and Transportation
Management must ensure that the packaging and transportation of their products are in accordance with Environmental disposal Regulations. It is important to pay attention to how chemicals on-site relate to segregation type, types of containers and storage, quantities, clear hazard markings and emergency action routines. Of course chemical products, by-products, emissions and waste materials must not remain on-site. Routines right across the processes need to be put in place and recorded in accordance with the various Regulations for Transport and effective waste disposal.
Step 6 – Record Keeping
Management should keep complete records of steps 1-5 with assessment dates. This is paramount especially for when inspection is carried out by local enforcement authorities and insurance companies. Important to the financial aspects of a business is the element of satisfactory safety operations on all fronts, nonetheless of chemical operations. Complete records of all the above-mentioned steps are very useful in compliance with regulatory requirements. The records should include GHS Material Safety Data Sheets, COSHH Risk Assessment and Hazard Sheets (such as WASPS). Figure 6 shows records for a typical well-known chemical product.
Step 7 – A Periodic Review of Safety Records and Regulations
Management need to be aware of the ever increasing number of changes occurring nationally and globally to safety regulations and how these could affect their own businesses and the application of these in a given business sector. For example, some companies have adopted a standard practice to review and update their Safety Data Sheets on a yearly basis. The result of this review is then implemented in their COSHH assessments. Whatever method taken, periodic review is a must. Good sources of news are health and safety periodicals and on-line reviews from the UK Health and Safety Executive.