Hazardous chemicals

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

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

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

Crystalline silica general fact sheet 

Crystalline silica technical fact sheet

Corrosive substance pictogram
Hazardous chemicals - the big picture

Over the past four years there have been more than 6500 injuries in NSW workplaces as a result of poor handling or storage of hazardous chemicals. Eight people died and more than 250 are now permanently disabled.

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Must do’s

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.

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Globally harmonised system (GHS)

The GHS is a single internationally agreed system of chemical classification and hazard communication through labelling and safety data.
Are you GHS ready?

Key information on hazardous chemicals

Aerial view of industry and shipping on Kooragang Island - Newcastle Australia. This industrial area and port is home to Heavy Industry in the Hunter Valley.
Major hazard facilities

Information for licensed major hazard facilities in NSW.

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