June 05 2015


During the course of your work, you may be exposed to, carry, store, supply and purchase chemicals and hazardous substances. Below is a summary of the present WA legislative requirements when dealing with hazardous substances.

NOTE: The requirements below are for ‘hazardous substances’ and not all chemicals however, industry best practice and Safety Solutions WA highly recommend that the management methods listed below be undertaken for all chemicals that you may use or handle within your workplaces.

What are you required to do with ‘hazardous substances’ that are going to be used at a work place?

You must:
  • Undertake a risk assessment for all substances
  • Ensure no person at the workplace is exposed to a hazardous substance above its specified exposure standard
  • Keep a current hazardous substances register of all hazardous substances used or stored at the workplace and ensure it is maintained and readily available (DFES will want this in case of an emergency situation)
  • Ensure the MSDS for each hazardous substance is readily available to anybody at the workplace who might be exposed to the product
  • Consult with all people who might be exposed to the hazardous substance at the workplace about the intention to use the hazardous substance and the safest method of use
  • Reduce the risks to people at the workplace that could arise from exposure to a hazardous substance
  • Provide instruction and training to people likely to be exposed to a hazardous substance at the workplace before they start work that includes relevant and adequate information and training on:
                           - The potential health risks and any toxic effects
                           - The control measures
                          - The correct use of methods to reduce the harmful effects of exposure
- re and use of PPE, and;              
  • Keep records of all instruction and training undertaken
  • If the risk assessment indicates it is needed, undertake appropriate monitoring and in certain situations, ensure there is health surveillance (if/when required).

How do you know if a chemical is classified as a Hazardous Substance?

The supplier / manufacturer must be able to provide you with a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the substance (If they can’t – don’t use / purchase it).

If it is a hazardous substance, the MSDS will contain an upfront statement along the lines of:

  • This product is hazardous according to the criteria of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC)/Australian Safety and Compensation Council/Safe Work Australia/WorkSafe Australia/the GHS
  • If the MSDS contains a signal words, such as ‘WARNING’, ‘POISON’ or ‘HAZARDOUS’, on the label, that too would indicate that you have a hazardous substance
  • Similarly, information in the Health Hazards section of the MSDS that the substance is ‘toxic’, ‘corrosive’, ‘a sensitizer’, ‘a carcinogen’, ‘a teratogen’ or ‘a mutagen’ would mean that it is likely to be a hazardous substance.

What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)?

A MSDS is a document that provides information about a chemical or hazardous substance and how it should be used, stored and how to avoid harm or what first aid is required when using it at the workplace.

MSDS’ are required to contain the following information:

  • Identification of the material and supplier
  • Hazards identification
  • Composition/information on ingredients
  • First aid measures
  • Fire fighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information

MSDS’ must be updated or reviewed: 

  • At least every five years from publication date
  • Whenever there is new information on changes to hazardous properties of the product
  • Whenever there is a formulation change.

What is a ‘hazardous substances register’?

Under the current WA OSH regulations, the employer, main contractor or self-employed person must keep a current register and MSDS of each hazardous substance used at the workplace.

A hazardous substance register must have as a minimum:

  • A list of all the hazardous substances you use (including stored substances) in your workplace
  • The associated MSDS for all those hazardous substances.

A hazardous substance register should also: 

  • Contain s notation against each hazardous substance as to whether a risk assessment has been completed
  • Be readily available to all workers potentially exposed to the hazardous substances, including emergency services.

Some hazardous substances may also be classified as Dangerous Goods (again, this will be highlighted on the MSDS for the product). Should the product you are using or storing be over a particular quantity, you may be required to hold a Dangerous Goods Licence. The threshold quantities of individual products will vary and are scheduled within Dangerous Goods legislation.

WorkSafe (and in the case of Dangerous Goods – Department of Mines and Petroleum) are responsible for policing these regulations and Inspectors do place chemical and hazardous substance management high on their site inspection agendas.

Safety Solutions WA can assist you with obtaining the required MSDS’, preparing chemical and hazardous substance registers and conducting risk assessments of substances. For more information on this topic or any other OSH inquiry, please do not hesitate to contact Safety Solutions WA.