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Substances deemed as hazardous to health may be gases, vapours, liquids, chemicals, fumes and dusts, or mixtures containing such components.
If there is a potential for inhalation, contact with skin or eyes or ingestion into the body of any classified substance, then those risks to the health of employees must be assessed.
Type of hazardous substances
The Safety, Health & Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations 2001 classifies a substance as hazardous if it:
- is toxic, harmful, corrosive, sensitising or an irritant
- has maximum exposure limits
- has occupational exposure standards
Other substances that are known to have chronic or delayed effects are:
- carcinogenic or mutagenic substances
A substance hazardous to health may not be a single chemical but one which occurs in mixtures or compounds. It is very important that you understand the potential risks posed by the substances that you use. Take for example carbon dioxide: accidental release of carbon dioxide contaminates the atmosphere, and where cylinders are stored in confined spaces (for example, in a cellar), the contamination is all the more rapid. The effects of contamination can range from headaches and dizziness to death caused by asphyxiation.
Assessment of health risk
Familiarise yourself with the information sheets for each substance used in your cellar.
Read the HSA guidance notes, manufacturers' standards and trade literature.
Remember: the Chemical Agents regulations are intended to ensure that you and your employees are safe, so it is important that you know what you are looking for.
Think about your premises and your business, and consider the following:
- changing the method of work so that tasks which involve an exposure are no longer necessary
- modifying a process to eliminate production of a hazardous by-product or waste product
- where a hazardous substance is being used, substitute a different substance which poses less risk to employees' health
- prevention is better than cure, and you must give first priority to preventing exposure. In some circumstances, where the effects of a substance are irreversible, prevention may be the only cure
Control of exposure
In some cases, prevention of exposure to hazards is just not possible. In such cases you must do your best to control exposure by any combination of the following measures:
- use systems of work which minimise the production of hazardous substances and limit the area of contamination in the event of spills and leaks
- install good general ventilation
- reduce the period employees are exposed to hazardous substances
- regularly clean contamination from walls, surfaces etc.
- provide adequate means for safe storage and disposal of hazardous substances
- prohibit eating, drinking, smoking etc. in contaminated areas
- at the same time, ensure that your employees have suitable facilities in an uncontaminated area for eating, drinking and washing
- install a carbon dioxide monitor in confined spaces
Where it is not possible to prevent exposure to hazards it is important that you establish procedures to ensure that employees use control measures properly.
They must know:
- what precautions to take and when to take them
- what cleaning, storage and disposal procedures are required
- why they are required
- when they are to be carried out
Encourage your employees to take an interest in control measures, after all it is for their own benefit.
What to do now...
You should take the Chemical Agents Regulations very seriously; they should be an ongoing concern.
Complying with the regulations does not have to add substantially to your workload. Keep records and make them available for inspection by employees or medical advisers. This may seem like an onerous task in the short-term, but once you have produced a full record updating it will be simple.
Your premises will comply with the Chemical Agents Regulations, you and your employees will be safer in your working environment and you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that you and your employees have a safe working environment.