How to implement chemical safety and compliance in your workplace


Safety is paramount when working with chemicals—not only for compliance with government regulations, but also to prevent the devastating effects that chemical-related accidents can have on workers and on the workplace. From skin burns to explosions, chemicals can cause lasting damage, resulting in a decline in productivity, loss of income, disability, and loss of life. In this post, we take a closer look at what we mean by chemical safety and how to implement it in your workplace.

What is chemical safety?

Chemical safety involves minimising physical, chemical and toxicological risks in a chemical environment or during chemical processes. Although chemicals have a myriad of important uses across many industries, they can also pose a threat to human health. Chemicals exist in many different forms, including dust, powders, fibres, fumes, liquids, vapours, gases and mists, and each of these forms carries a host of different risks to the user. Many chemicals can have serious neurological, integumentary and respiratory effects. Consequently, it is important to be aware of the chemical safety regulations and requirements when using them. 

Chemical safety is also important as chemical accidents often have a domino effect, causing further health and environmental problems. For example, if a beaker explodes in a laboratory, both the contents of the beaker and the broken beaker itself present safety hazards. 

An Erlenmeyer flask being used in an experiment.

Chemical safety starts with risk assessment 

The first step in implementing chemical safety is to conduct a thorough chemical safety risk assessment. There are three steps involved in completing a risk assessment of the chemicals in your workplace. 

  1. Identify the hazards: Draw up a comprehensive list of all the chemicals you have in your workplace and find out what the hazards associated with each chemical are.
  2. Assess the risk: Determine the risks that the chemicals and chemical processes used in your workplace pose to those who come in contact with them.
  3. Control the exposure: Consider the various steps that should be taken to control or eliminate these risks. This includes the proper methods of storing, using and discarding the chemicals. In addition, consider the type of safety apparel, such as gloves, headgear and protective clothing that is required when handling these chemicals.

Collect and refer to chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for all chemicals

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are essential for chemical safety as they inform users of the hazards and safety requirements associated with the chemicals. SDS are information sheets that clearly describe the chemicals, their effects on body systems, how they should be handled and if they pose any unique threats, such as spontaneous combustion. 

Chemical labels and signage

Use of standardised chemical labelling and signage (as seen in the picture below), is also an important part of chemical safety. Such signage conveys vital safety information about the chemicals at a glance. 

An example of chemical safety labels

Common chemical safety practices and procedures 

Chemical safety also involves a number of safety practices and procedures that should be undertaken in order to minimise the risks of chemical exposure. These include:

  • Selecting the appropriate location. Think about where you are using the chemicals and ask yourself whether your location has the appropriate safety equipment and protocols to ensure you are protected and can respond adequately to an emergency. At the very least, you should have access to eyewash basins, showers, and proper ventilation. For example, a chemical fume hood. The access paths to both to safety equipment and to the exits should be clear and free from obstruction. 
  • Never work alone. Don’t work alone when using hazardous materials; always have at least one other person working with you. If there are other people in your laboratory, be sure to communicate clearly about the chemicals you are using so you don’t cause any accidents. Never leave your experiments unattended. 
  • Food and drink. Never consume food or drink in the vicinity of chemicals. Never taste or smell chemicals to identify them. Don’t store food or drinks in the laboratory or in the cold room.
  • Housekeeping. Ensure that floors are clean and dry, benches are uncluttered, and an effective waste disposal scheme has been established. Do not pour chemicals down the drain or into the general waste. Do not store excess chemicals on the countertops.   

A man holding labelled chemical containers, wearing protective clothing. 

Each laboratory and working space will come with their own set of challenges and protocols. Preparing for known hazards and anticipating others will ensure that you minimise the risk of chemical exposure and maximise your safety. After all, it’s not the hazard (the chemical), it’s the risk (exposure to the chemical) that is the problem. That’s why we focus on minimising risk.

Remember: Hazard ≠ risk

To find out more about chemical safety, contact the Chemwatch team today. Our friendly and experienced staff draw on years of experience to offer the latest industry advice on how to stay safe and comply with Health and Safety regulations while working with chemicals.


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