A hazardous substance can be anything that could potentially cause you harm, including many everyday products such as glue and paint.
The legal definition covers any liquid, solid, gas, chemical or biological material that could pose a risk to workers’ health and safety. There are around 100,000 different substances recognised across Europe, with almost every workplace facing some level of exposure to a potential risk.
These are 7 steps to a safer workplace.
1. Identify what substances you have in your workplace. Some of the most common substances include cleaning products; glue, paint, varnish and oil; petrol; solvents and dusts and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).
2. Conduct a risk assessment to identify how and who could be harmed. Some further risks can be created as a result of processes in the workplace – for example, welding fumes or wood dust can cause serious health problems for staff.
3. The risk assessment process should include:
a. Identifying all the potential hazards in the workplace.
b. Gathering information on all the substances in the workplace and the harm they could cause.
c. The levels of exposure that workers face.
d. Any training or instructions that could help reduce risks.
e. Ranking the levels of risk looking at the chance of workers being exposed, and the harm it would cause.
f. Procedures that reduce the risks faced by staff.
4. The main issues for most people will be the safe handling and storage of common substances found in many workplaces. All relevant staff should be trained and know the correct procedure for handling and storing each material.
5. All chemicals or cleaning agents should be clearly marked with an orange square and black symbols / writing and stored in a secure area. They should also have the appropriate warning and hazard labels attached.
6. The proper equipment and any protective clothing provided should be used.
7. Workers in many sectors are protected by European law which limits exposure to certain chemicals and provides regulations for dealing with them. It’s important to be clear on what these limitations are and ensure the regulations are observed.
Following these practices will give you a sound basis for good safety and risk management in your working environment.