Exposure to chemicals is 100% preventable. Without the proper controls it can cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, skin and eye irritations, and fire and explosion-related injuries.
There are literally thousands of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace – paints, pesticides, cleaners and fuels, to name a few. They come in various forms – powders, solids, liquids and gases.
Priority hazardous chemicals
Reducing high levels of exposure to hazardous chemicals at work through the safe use, storage and handling of chemicals is an essential part of creating a healthy, safe and productive workplace.
Through the implementation of the Hazardous chemicals and materials exposures baseline reduction strategy, the level and impact of workplace exposures to hazardous chemicals will be identified and reduced.
Select the images below to see more information on formaldehyde and crystalline silica, the top two priority chemicals identified from a review of national and international sources.
Formaldehyde is a colourless, irritating and unpleasant smelling flammable gas. It is soluble in water and often used as water based solution known as formalin.
Formaldehyde - a priority chemical
The NSW Work health and safety roadmap has a target of a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses by 2022, which comprises a reduction in exposures to hazardous chemicals and materials. A priority list of 100 chemicals, based on national and international research was developed, in which ranked formaldehyde first.
Uses of formaldehyde
Formaldehyde solutions (formalin) are used in hospitals, pathology and anatomy laboratories, and funeral homes for embalming, foundries and leather tanneries. Large quantities of formaldehyde-based resins are used as glue for manufacturing wood pressed products such as particleboards and plywood. It is also present in low concentrations in a variety of consumer products.
Harms from formaldehyde
Formaldehyde/formalin, depending on factors such as the concentration, can cause the following health effects:
- irritation, burns and allergic reactions with direct skin contact
- serious damage with direct eye contact
- eye, nose and throat irritation through inhalation.
Very low concentrations of formaldehyde can cause skin reactions in allergic individuals. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause nasal cancers, however adequate controls such as minimising the generation of vapours and mists and use of personal protective equipment can prevent any hazardous exposures and illness in the workplace.
Protecting yourself and others
- Eliminate the use of formaldehyde if reasonably practicable.
- Substitute high concentration formalin products with low concentrations.
- Ensure effective ventilation is in place to reduce exposure to formaldehyde.
- Use appropriate tools to avoid skin contact with formaldehyde solutions.
- Use well maintained and appropriate personal protective equipment such as respirators, safety goggles and gloves.
- Ensure adequate engineering (eg – local exhaust ventilation) and personal protective controls are in place when undertaking high exposure activities.
- Follow instructions and controls outlined in safety data sheets and product labels.
Technical information on formaldehyde
More detail on formaldehyde can be found in our formaldehyde technical fact sheet.
Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in most rocks, sand, clay as well as in products such as bricks, concrete, tile and composite stone.
Crystalline silica - a priority chemical
The NSW Work Health and Safety Roadmap has a target of a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses by 2022, which comprises a reduction in exposures to hazardous chemicals and materials.
A priority list of 100 chemicals based on national and international research was developed, in which crystalline silica ranked the second highest priority.
Uses for crystalline silica
Crystalline silica is a very common mineral used in the manufacture of many types of building products for use in construction.
Engineered materials containing silica, such as composite stone, are used to fabricate kitchen benches and counter tops.
Workers can come across silica when undertaking construction works that require excavation or tunnelling through sandstone.
Harms from crystalline silica
Very fine particles of crystalline silica dust present a hazard when inhaled into the lungs. Airborne dust is most likely to occur when materials or products containing silica in the workplace are cut, sanded, drilled or any other job which creates fine dust.
Depending on factors such as how much dust a worker breathes in and for how long, crystalline silica can cause the following health effects:
- silicosis – a scarring of the lung which can result in a severe shortness of breath and is not reversible. Severe cases can result in complications leading to death
- lung cancer
- kidney disease.
Adequate controls such as minimising the generation of airborne dust and use of personal protective equipment can prevent any hazardous exposures and illness in the workplace.
Protecting yourself and others
- Eliminate where possible, tasks that generate dust
- Substitute where possible (eg – composite stone) with safer products
- Use exhaust ventilation systems to capture and remove dust at the source
- Use dust capture systems on portable tools
- Apply water suppression systems to reduce dust generation
- Use well maintained and appropriate personal protective equipment (eg – respirators)
- Avoid using compressed air to remove or clean settled dust
- Follow instructions and controls outlined in safety data sheets and product labels
Crystalline silica fact sheets
More detail on crystalline silica can be found in our fact sheets
There are specific laws about working safely with hazardous chemicals. Here we summarise those laws and give you some practical tips.
Some laws relate to manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals, some relate to suppliers, while others are more general.
Globally harmonised system (GHS)
Key information on hazardous chemicals
Airborne contaminantsAir should not contain chemical agents at concentrations that affect health, safety or well being.
Chemicals and the GHSA new system of chemical classification and hazard communication is coming into effect.
Explosives & fireworksOur laws, licensing, and notifications system works together to regulate explosives, certain security sensitive dangerous substances and fireworks.
Farm chemicalsMany pesticides used in the agricultural sector contain hazardous chemicals that can have short and long-term health effects if not managed safely.
Flammable substancesFlammable and combustible substances must be kept in the lowest practical quantity at the workplace.
Glyphosates and organophosphatesChemicals containing glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) and some other common pesticides have been assessed as being potentially carcinogenic to humans.
Hazardous atmospheresAtmospheres affected by hazards such as insufficient oxygen, flammable gases and combustible dusts can pose an immediate threat to life or can interfere with the ability to escape unaided.
Lead workLead can harm your health and can be inhaled through dust, fumes or mist. It can also be swallowed.
PFAS firefighting foamsInformation to current and ex-workers on the potential health concerns regarding the use, handling and storage of PFAS containing aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) and their contaminants.