On August 20, 2019, a ban on the uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone came into effect across Victoria to help protect workers from exposure to deadly silica dust.

Workplace health and safety regulations now prohibit the cutting, grinding and abrasive polishing of engineered stone with power tools, unless on-tool water suppression or dust extraction devices are in place and respiratory protection equipment is used.

If it is not reasonably practicable to use water suppression or dust extraction, local exhaust ventilation must be used.

What is considered engineered stone?

In Victoria, the amended regulations define engineered stone as a manufactured composite stone that contains resins and has a crystalline silica content of at least 80 per cent.

To find out how much crystalline silica is in a product check the safety data sheet or other information from the supplier.

What does the ban mean?

Under the amended regulations, an employer, self-employed person or person who manages or controls a workplace must ensure a power tool is not used to cut, grind or abrasively polish engineered stone, unless the tool:

  • has an integrated water delivery system that supplies a continuous feed of water (on-tool water suppression), or
  • is fitted with on-tool extraction attached to a HEPA filtered dust class H vacuum cleaner (or similar system that captures the dust generated).

If these controls are not reasonably practicable, the use of power tools must be controlled through local exhaust ventilation (LEV).

It also means that people cutting, grinding or polishing engineered stone with a power tool must be provided with respiratory protective equipment that:

  • is designed to protect the wearer from the inhalation of airborne contaminants entering the nose, mouth and lungs
  • complies with AS/NZS 1716 – Respiratory protective devices.

All controls must be properly designed, installed, used and maintained so they stay effective at reducing exposure to crystalline silica dust.

Who is responsible for making sure the controls are in place and the required equipment is supplied?

  • Employers.
  • Self-employed people.
  • People who manage or control a workplace.

Is using a handheld hose (or other handheld water delivery device) to direct water at the cutting point considered to be an ‘integrated water delivery system’?

No, an integrated water delivery system is interlocked with the power tool to ensure water is continuously delivered to the cutting point whenever the tool is in operation.

Instead of a commercially available on tool extraction system connected to a Dust Class H Vacuum can I use another extraction system?

Yes, as long as the alternative system effectively captures the dust at the source where it is generated and collects it in a manner that does not expose anyone to any dust.

Do I need to provide every person who uses a power tool to cut, grind or abrasively polish engineered stone with respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in addition to a water delivery system, on-tool extraction or local exhaust ventilation?

Yes, it is mandatory to provide RPE to anyone who is cutting, grinding or abrasively polishing engineered stone with a power tool.

You also need to provide them with training on selecting, using and maintaining the RPE.

What level of RPE do I need to provide?

RPE provided must:

  • be designed to protect the wearer from the inhalation of airborne contaminants entering the nose, mouth and lungs, and
  • comply with AS/NZS 1716 – Respiratory protective devices.

Check the product information to make sure RPE is AS/ NZS 1716 compliant. If you’re not sure, ask your supplier or contact the manufacturer.

RPE needs to have at least a P2 filter and be tested to ensure correct facial fit for each person. Where facial hair interferes with the fit of the respirator, a powered respirator that does not rely on a facial seal must be used.

RPE needs to be selected, used and maintained in accordance with AS/NZS 1715 – Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment. Employers must give employees information, instruction and training on how to use and maintain RPE.

Note: Respiratory protection is not mandated when fully automated cutting, grinding or polishing systems are used, as long as employee exposure levels are below the exposure standard. If there is any uncertainty about whether the exposure standard is, or may be exceeded, atmospheric (personal) monitoring of employees must be completed.

Who do the new regulations apply to?

Employers, those who are self-employed and people who manage or control a workplace must ensure that they are complying with the new requirements.

Employees also need to be aware of these changes – they have a legal obligation to cooperate with their employer’s efforts to comply with the ban.

Do the amendments change existing OHS Regulations requirements for crystalline silica?

The new requirements prescribe controls that must be used when a person is cutting, grinding or polishing engineered stone with a power tool. This applies in addition to existing requirements under Part 4.1 (Hazardous substances) of the OHS Regulations.

In other words, duty holders must work through both the hierarchy of controls specified in Part 4.1 of the OHS Regulations and implement the controls specified in the amended regulations.

Air monitoring

Employers also continue to have an obligation to carry out air monitoring if:

  • they are not sure if their employees are exposed to levels of silica dust that are above the exposure standard, or
  • they can’t work out if there’s a risk to employee health without air monitoring.

Employers should carry out regular air monitoring to ensure employee exposure is controlled.

Health monitoring

Employers must provide health monitoring if exposure to crystalline silica is likely to affect their employees’ health. Employers should carry out health monitoring in all stone benchtop fabrication workplaces, unless air monitoring data shows that exposure is less than 0.02 mg/m3 as a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration over 8 hours.

How do I make sure that I am complying with the new requirements?

If anyone at your workplace uses power tools to cut, grind or abrasively polish engineered stone, you should review your controls to ensure you are compliant with the new requirements as specified in this document, and revise them if necessary.

What happens if I do not comply with the new requirements?

There are consequences for duty holders who don’t control risks of dry processing.

If WorkSafe inspectors observe cutting, polishing or grinding without the required controls in place, they will issue enforcement notices or take other action. Failing to control risks of dry processing may be a criminal offence.

What requirements apply for other materials that contain crystalline silica?

Employers must control the risks of their employees’ exposure to crystalline silica dust. When determining what control measures to use, employers must apply the hierarchy of control. Employers must first determine if the risk of exposure to crystalline silica dust can be eliminated.


Where the risk of exposure can’t be eliminated, it must be reduced as far as is reasonably practicable, using one or more of these controls:

  • Substitution (for example substituting high silica content products with others that have a lower silica content)
  • Isolation
  • Engineering controls

If the risk of exposure still remains, administrative controls must be used to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. If a risk still remains, personal protective equipment must be used.

Employers also have an obligation to undertake air monitoring and provide health monitoring to employees in certain circumstances.


*Queensland introduced similar bans in 2018. While some other states may be yet to follow, it is in the best interests of you and your workers to adopt these changes immediately if you work with engineered stone.

As always, please check with your relevant state regulator for more information.

The construction industry, including shopfitting, employs more than 625,000 people across Australia, making it one of the biggest employers in the country – and the statistics surrounding the mental health of construction workers are staggering.

According to recent reports from MATES in Construction and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC):

  • construction workers are more than twice as likely to suicide as other people in Australia
  • construction workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than through a workplace accident
  • apprentices in construction are two and a half times more likely to suicide than other young men their age
  • 21 per cent of workers in the construction industry were shown to have had a mental health condition
  • 9 per cent of construction workers have a condition affecting their mood, such as depression.

In a ‘she’ll be right’ male-dominated industry, it is becoming increasingly important for employers to understand and support their workers, and to consider that the people they employ are likely to have experienced mental illness at some point.

While the curtains are slowly lifting around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, the benefits to both workers and employers are astounding. Not only does a mentally healthy workplace create a more engaged, robust and productive workforce, but research also shows that healthy workers are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are less at risk of injuries and return to work quicker than their less healthy counterparts. Research also shows that a well-planned wellbeing program can have a long-term return on investment of 1:5 or higher, and a reduction in workers’ compensation claims, reduced absenteeism, improved morale of workers and increased productivity.

Wellbeing programs can support better lifestyle choices around smoking, nutrition, harmful alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity all risk factors for avoidable chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Additionally, poor mental health can either be a contributor to or the result of having a number of chronic diseases.

Workers can be supported to make healthier choices by providing education and ensuring physical environments, policies and organisational systems support a healthy lifestyle.

By investing and participating in workplace health programs, you can make your worksite a mentally healthy work environment… and it’s not that difficult!

Involve everyone – all workers can participate in activities that promote mental health.

Invest in health and wellbeing and see your bottom line improve – a well-designed workplace mental health and wellness program can return investment for small business, with reductions in leave and rises in productivity.

Take a holistic approach – adopt an integrated approach that looks at the big picture and how everything you do fits together to support mental health in your workplace.

Raise awareness of mental health at toolbox talks or informal chats, promote healthy ways of working and be seen to be doing the same.

So, where and how do you start taking action?

While all this sounds great, deciding where to start can be difficult. It can help to begin with small improvements and build from there. Consider starting with some simple activities, that everyone can try. Over time, develop a comprehensive mental health and wellbeing program and watch the benefits for your business grow.

You’ll find that some simple activities are a great place to start, like:

  • circulate information such as fact sheets, e-newsletters, intranet or websites, online resources and posters that promote positive mental health.
  • talk about mental health with your team regularly and consider using toolbox talks, webinars or podcasts like those from Safe Work Australia, Heads Up or Mates In Construction.
  • build knowledge and skills to stay mentally fit with training, tools and resources that are supported by evidence – use eHealth apps, mindfulness and physical activity programs
  • conduct a staff satisfaction survey to gather feedback on areas of concern and ideas about how to create a workplace that supports mental health.


To assist, WorkSafe Victoria has developed an online tool that can help businesses to take their first steps towards a positive, mentally healthy workplace.

The WorkWell Toolkit brings together resources and ideas that are tailormade to suit any business size, in any industry.

It’s as simple as taking a questionnaire about your business to get personalised advice, create an account to receive videos, templates and case studies that are relevant to you and your workers, and then track your progress online.

SafeWork NSW also has a Mental Health at Work website, with tools and resources that will support you to implement wellbeing strategies at any work site.

Begin by encouraging conversation, checking in with workers regularly and lead by example. The health of your team might depend upon it.





This information is provided by ASOFIA as general work health and safety information. ASOFIA does not make any representation or warranty about the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained here or in any links to additional sources. The information herein does not replace any statutory requirements under any relevant State and Territory legislation, and you should always check with your relevant jurisdiction. Links to other websites do not constitute an endorsement of material at those sites, or any associated organisation, product or service.

All PCBUs, in all states and territories, are required to notify their work health and safety regulator of certain ‘notifiable incidents’ when they occur at work, under work health and safety (WHS) legislation.

Work health and safety regulators are committed to preventing work-related deaths and injuries. Notifying the regulator of ‘notifiable incidents’ can help identify causes of incidents and prevent similar incidents at your workplace and other workplaces.

How do you know what is reportable and what isn’t?

A ‘notifiable incident’ arising out of the conduct of a business or undertaking at a workplace, is:

  • the death of a person
  • a ‘serious injury or illness’, or
  • a ‘dangerous incident’


‘Notifiable incidents’ may relate to any person—whether an employee, contractor or member of the public.

A notifiable incident should be reported to the regulator immediately after you become aware it has happened; if the regulator asks—written notification within 48 hours of the request, and the incident site to be preserved until an inspector arrives or directs otherwise (subject to some exceptions).

Only the most serious health or safety incidents are notifiable, and only if they are work-related. They trigger requirements to preserve the incident site pending further direction from the regulator.

Examples include:

  • A burn requiring intensive care or critical care which could require compression garment or a skin graft. It does not include a burn that merely requires washing the wound and applying a dressing.
  • Amputation of a limb such as an arm or leg, body parts such as hand, foot or the tip of a finger, toe, nose or ear.
  • Deep or extensive cuts that cause muscle, tendon, nerve or blood vessel damage or permanent impairment, deep puncture wounds, tears of wounds to the flesh or tissues—this may include stitching to prevent loss of blood and/or other treatment to prevent loss of bodily function and/or infection.
  • An injury that results in or is likely to result in the loss of the eye or total or partial loss of vision, an injury that involves an object penetrating the eye (for example metal fragment, wood chip) or exposure of the eye to a substance which poses a risk of serious eye damage. It does not include eye exposure to a substance that merely causes irritation.


Some types of work-related dangerous incidents must be notified even if nobody is injured.
The regulator must be notified of any incident in relation to a workplace that exposes any person to a serious risk resulting from immediate or imminent exposure to:

  • an uncontrolled escape, spillage or leakage of a substance
  • an uncontrolled implosion, explosion or fire
  • an uncontrolled escape of gas or steam
  • an uncontrolled escape of a pressurised substance
  • electric shock, including minor shocks resulting from direct contact with exposed live electrical parts (other than ‘extra low voltage’) including shock from capacitive discharge. Those that are not notifiable include shock due to static electricity, ‘extra low voltage’ shock (arising from electrical equipment less than or equal to 50V AC and less than or equal to 120V DC), defibrillators are used deliberately to shock a person for first aid or medical reasons
  • the fall or release from a height of any plant, substance or thing
  • the collapse, overturning, failure or malfunction of, or damage to, any plant that is required
    to be design or item registered under the Work Health and Safety Regulations, for example, a collapsing crane
  • the collapse or partial collapse of a structure
  • the collapse or failure of an excavation or of any shoring supporting an excavation
  • the inrush of water, mud or gas in workings, in an underground excavation or tunnel, or


A dangerous incident includes both immediate serious risks to health or safety, and also a risk from immediate exposure to a substance which is likely to create a serious risk to health or safety in the future, for example, asbestos or hazardous chemicals.

Who is responsible for notifying?

Any PCBU from which the ‘notifiable incident’ arises must ensure the regulator is notified immediately after becoming aware it has happened.

Procedures should be put into place to ensure work health and safety incidents are promptly notified to the people responsible for responding to them, for example, a manager and then notified to the regulator if required.

How do I report a notifiable incident?

The notice must be given by the fastest possible means—which could be by telephone or in writing, for example by email or online (if available).

In general, a PCBU ‘becomes aware’ of a notifiable incident once any of their supervisors or managers become aware of the incident e.g. when a worker suffers a serious injury and reports it to their immediate supervisor, it is at this point that the PCBU is considered to be aware of the incident.

It is vital that an incident site is not disturbed until an inspector arrives or directs otherwise (whichever is earlier). The person with management or control of the workplace is responsible for preserving the incident site, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Any evidence that may assist an inspector to determine the cause of the incident must be preserved—including any plant, substance, structure or thing associated with the incident.

However, preserving an incident site does not prevent any action needed:

  • to assist an injured person
  • to remove a deceased person
  • to make the site safe or to minimise the risk of a further notifiable incident, or
  • to facilitate a police investigation.

Records of notifiable incidents must be kept for at least five years from the date of notification. Penalties apply for failing to do so.

It is also a legislated requirement that every PCBU must provide information for workers that outlines how they notify an injury and how they may make a workers compensation claim.

This information must include the name and address of the insurer and must always be available in the workplace. The poster contains steps for employees to follow after a work-related injury or illness and could include the name of the person who manages recovery at let workers know what to do and who to contact if they get injured at work.

The information can be displayed electronically such as on a company website or intranet or by using the ‘If you get injured at work poster’, available to download or print through your state or territory’s safety regulator.

NOTE: you should check with your state or territory’s safety regulator if you have any concerns about the information outlined above.


This information is provided by ASOFIA as general work health and safety information. ASOFIA does not make any representation or warranty about the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained here or in any links to additional sources. The information herein does not replace any statutory requirements under any relevant State and Territory legislation, and you should always check with your relevant jurisdiction. Links to other websites do not constitute an endorsement of material at those sites, or any associated organisation, product or service.

A recent study1 involving more than 8,800 employees shows that 39 per cent of us are sleeping six hours or less a night and are more stressed, have less energy and are working longer hours than those employees who get the recommended 7 – 9 hours a night.

The concept that workloads and work-related stress are keeping us awake at night probably isn’t far from the truth. Stress, both at work and at home, alcohol, lack of exercise and of course technology and screens are all impacting negatively on our day to day wellbeing.

Health experts recommend 7 – 9 hours’ sleep a night for optimal wellbeing and performance, but it would seem not many of us are reaching that target. Workers sleeping less than 6 hours a night recorded higher stress levels, additional work hours, less energy and almost 20 per cent difference in their work life balance compared to employees who get the recommended amount. It seems people who rest well, work well.

These findings show the less sleep you get, the more prone you are to be working additional hours with close to 30 per cent working 9 + hours extra a week. These people also take shorter lunch breaks and have considerably less energy during the workday.

This is even more concerning in an industry that using large machinery, power tools and other higher-risk items on a daily basis. Being ‘on the tools’ when a person is overtired can only lead to poor concentration, poor decision-making and potentially poor safety outcomes.

A recently released report by the Federal Government2 also found four in every ten Australians are not getting the sleep they need. The direct financial cost of this inadequate sleep is currently estimated to be $26.2 billion annually.

Trent Zimmerman MP, said in the report “If health and wellbeing costs are considered, the cost rises to $66.3 billion annually. Of even greater concern, in 2016-17 inadequate sleep was estimated to contribute to 3017 deaths in Australia.”

And it’s not just work that’s keeping us awake… insufficient sleep can be caused by a range of lifestyle pressures including shift changes, and the increased use of the internet and electronic media. Shift work, especially when it involves night shift, can be extremely disruptive to sleep patterns, and in the longer term, this disrupted sleep can have serious health impacts. Shift work has been linked to the increased risk of obesity, sleep disorders, mental health conditions, and cancer.

The overuse of smartphones and our growing love affair with the internet is also proving to have a massive impact on our sleep patterns. People are increasingly watching streaming services, internet gaming, and using social media late at night, potentially at the expense of sleep. This is also alarmingly starting to affect children, who are having their sleep continually disrupted by their smartphones or other devices.

If you’re an employer, or PCBU, responsible for the safety and wellbeing of workers, what can be done to help people get better sleep and more of it??

Your culture onsite has a significant effect on your team’s ability to sleep. Establish work-time limits and reduce the long hours your employees work where possible. Encourage workers to down tools, take a walk, remove themselves from their workspace and make lunch breaks compulsory for some much-needed downtime. It always helps to lead by example, too. Go easy on the alcohol during the week, bring a healthy lunch to work, cut back on the coffees. Small changes during the day help to achieve that rested state when it’s time for lights out.

It’s worth noting a recent study on wellbeing found that rude or offensive co-workers didn’t just cause stress at work, their behaviour can carry across into downtime at home and lead to anxiety and depression. This ‘spill over’ effect can cause insomnia and stress, even after the workday is well behind you.

With so many people not getting enough quality sleep, and then bringing the effects of that lack of sleep to work, it’s vital that employers look to managing this issue as part of their standard approach to safety in the workplace. Have the conversations about lifestyle choices, monitor behaviours, give workers breaks to refuel and refocus, and keep stress to a minimum. The benefits will be reaped by all, not only at work but 24-7.


1 Workscore.com.au

2 Bedtime Reading, Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia

PPE (personal protective equipment) is defined as anything used or work to minimise risk to a worker’s health and safety. It includes many items like boots, ear plugs, hard hats, harnesses, goggles, gloves and more.

But is using PPE the safest way to get a job done and protect workers?

Model WHS regulations require you to work through a hierarchy of controls to manage risk in certain circumstances.

Under this hierarchy, using PPE is ranked as one of the least effective safety control measures, with a Level 3 rating. Level 3 control measures do not control the hazard at the source. They rely on human behaviour and supervision and when used on their own tend to be the least effective in minimising risks. Workplaces must not rely on PPE to satisfy their hazard control requirements.

What does this mean for you and your workers?

PPE should only be used:

  • as a last resort
  • as an interim measure
  • as a back-up.

It is best used as a supplement to higher-level control measures or when no other safety measures are available. Before relying only on PPE, you must do a risk assessment to determine if other controls could be used more effectively.

If you are unable to put better control measures in place, PPE may be used as an interim or last resort measure to address a safety issue. When used, it must be:

  • suitable for the nature of the work or hazard
  • a suitable size and fit for the individual who is required to use it and that it is reasonably comfortable
  • maintained, repaired or replaced, including keeping it clean and hygienic, and in good working order
  • used or worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practical.

As an employer, or PCBU, you must:

  • consult with your workers when selecting PPE
  • ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the PPE is used or worn by the worker
  • provide workers with information and instruction in the proper use and wearing of PPE, its storage and maintenance.

Workers also have responsibilities when PPE is used in the workplace. When provided with PPE by an employer or PCBU, workers must:

  • use or wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU, so far as they are reasonably able
  • not intentionally misuse or damage the PPE
  • inform the business of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate any of the PPE if they become aware of it
  • consult their manager if the PPE is uncomfortable, does not fit properly or the worker has an adverse reaction using it.

If PPE is required on a work site, the PCBU is responsible for providing it to workers, free of charge. Under some circumstances, the payment for PPE can be negotiated e.g. whether the equipment can be generally used outside work (sunglasses, boots etc), a requirement for a personal fit, as well as relevant industry awards or enterprise agreements.

Regardless of who pays for the PPE, workers must be provided with enough information, training and instruction on when and how to use it.

When selecting PPE for different work tasks, you must:

  • match the PPE to the hazard – work tasks may expose workers to more than one hazard e.g. welders may need protection from welding gases, as well as ultraviolet radiation, hot metal and sparks,
  • consider how the work is to be carried out and the level of risk to the worker e.g. a more protective respirator may be needed in high air contamination areas.
  • make sure PPE that is to be worn at the same time can be used together.

It’s important to get PPE right for each job, but it’s equally important to look at the work environment as well.

You should consider the impacts of a hot and humid work environment, or if you’re working with hazardous chemicals or biological substances, think about how the substance could enter the body i.e. can it be absorbed through the lungs and skin.

Always choose PPE that meets current Australian Standards and make sure the PPE isn’t giving rise to any other issues. PPE can restrict visibility and mobility, some workers may suffer allergic reactions, it can hinder a worker’s national cooling mechanisms or exacerbate other health issues.

Monitor workers using PPE to ensure it is being worn and stored correctly. While this can be time consuming, as a PCBU you are under legislative obligation to do so, so far as is reasonably practicable.

While the use of PPE is not necessarily the best way to manage a work health and safety risk, when it is used correctly and is fit for purpose, it can be a very effective one.

For more information on managing risks, implementing control measures and using PPE, contact your state’s work health and safety regulator.

A company in Victoria accused of breaching safety laws, in failing to conduct monthly inspections of scaffolding, has responded to a serious fall by employing an OHS compliance officer, overhauling its OHS register and entering a $55,000 undertaking.

In 2017, a worker was inspecting the eaves at a Victorian construction site, controlled by TS Constructions Pty Ltd, when he fell more than three metres through a gap in the scaffolding, where two planks had been removed. He suffered broken facial bones and a broken wrist.

It was later found that the TS site foreman recalled the planks being moved by bricklayers, probably so they could access a window area, but failed to conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure the planks were replaced.

TS was charged with breaching the State OHS Act and Regulations in failing to ensure the scaffold was complete and safe by properly inspecting it at least once every 30 days and failing to ensure no work was performed from incomplete scaffolding.

WorkSafe Victoria accepted TS’s bid to enter an enforceable undertaking, in lieu of prosecution. The regulator heard the company responded to the painting worker’s fall by engaging a compliance officer with extensive experience in the construction industry, whose primary role was overseeing the company’s safety policies and procedures and ensuring best practice performance of the company’s OHS compliance.

TS engaged external entities to review its OHS management system, while also updating and expanded its AS/NZS 4801-accredited OHS register. The company rolled out additional safety training to supervisors and contractors, invited WorkSafe representatives to provide relevant OHS updates at quarterly meetings, and, in the space of twelve months conducted almost 150 site compliance inspections.

With scaffolding safety such a serious issue in our industry, another jurisdiction is conducting ‘Operation Scaff Safe 2019’. SafeWork NSW is targeting scaffold compliance across all sectors of construction. They are looking to ensure scaffolds are built to Australian Standards and are not missing components; those erecting, dismantling or altering scaffolds (where the risk of an object or person falling is 4 metres or more) hold the correct HRW scaffolding licence, and scaffolds remain safe and compliant throughout the build process.

On-the-spot fines of up to $3,600 may be issued to PCBUs placing workers lives at risk by not protecting them from falls from heights, or for those conducting high risk work without a licence (this includes scaffolding work where a person or object can fall more than 4 metres).

SafeWork Australia has a guide that provides information on how to manage risks associated with scaffolds and scaffolding work at a workplace. It is supported by guidance material for specific types of scaffolds and scaffolding, suspended (swing stage) scaffolds, scaffold inspection and maintenance, and advice for small businesses and workers on managing the risks associated with tower and mobile scaffolds and related scaffolding work.

Do you know how to safely store the chemicals you work with and the obligations you have under WHS legislation? Are you responsible for developing safety data sheets?

Working with and around chemicals can be dangerous if you don’t know the right way to use them and store them. Let’s look at some of the common health and safety risks of storing chemicals review how to manage those risks.

Hazardous chemicals are defined as substances, mixtures and articles that can pose a health or physical hazard to humans. They may be solids, liquids or gases.

Health hazards are properties of a chemical that cause adverse health effects. This could include toxic chemicals, carcinogens and chemicals which may cause infertility or birth defects. Exposure to these chemicals usually occurs through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact.

Physical hazards are properties of a chemical that can result in immediate injury to people or damage to property. For example, flammable liquids, compressed gases and self-heating substances. Corrosive chemicals can have both physical and health hazards and could damage skin and eyes.

Even when you’re not using them, chemicals can still pose a risk. Flammable and oxidising chemicals may cause or contribute to a fire, corrosive chemicals can injure workers and damage structures they come into contact with and toxic chemicals can poison. Compressed gases can also suffocate or poison workers if they leak.

Also, some chemicals are not compatible with other chemicals. When incompatible chemicals mix they can explode, release toxic, flammable or corrosive gases, or corrode chemical containers, causing them to leak. It’s important to identify which chemicals are incompatible and ensure that hazardous chemicals are stored safely to minimise the chance of an incident occurring.

When using and storing hazardous chemicals, you should always follow a risk management approach, by:

  • Identifying the hazards – what could cause harm?
  • Assess the risks, if any – how could it harm workers, how serious is the harm and how likely is it to happen?
  • Eliminate these risks so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Control the risks – if it is not practical to eliminate the risk, implement control measures
  • Review and maintain control measures

This might include considerations such as:

  • Where possible, perform the task without using hazardous chemicals
  • Where possible, substitute hazardous chemicals with less toxic alternatives
  • Isolate hazardous chemicals
  • Ensure storage areas are separately ventilated from the rest of the workplace
  • Make sure workers are thoroughly trained in handling chemicals safety
  • Always use personal protection equipment (PPE) such as respirators, gloves and goggles
  • Regularly monitor the workplace with appropriate equipment to track the degree of hazardous chemicals in the air or environment
  • Consult with your workers to maintain and improve existing safety and handling practices
  • Keep emergency management plans up to date, and share them with workers
  • Eliminate ignition sources, but if not practicable then control them
  • Clearly label all hazardous chemicals, including those decanted into other containers.

NOTE: When labelling chemicals, the GHS1notes warning labels on hazardous substances should feature hazard pictograms, signal words (such as danger and warning), hazard statements (such as fatal if swallowed) and precautionary statements (such as wear protective gloves).

Before you use or store any hazardous chemicals, you must get a current safety data sheet from the manufacturer or supplier. You must also maintain updated safety data sheets and ensure your workers, emergency services personnel or anyone who asks is provided with that information.

You also need to keep a register that lists all the hazardous chemicals (except certain consumer products and certain chemicals in transit) which are used, stored and handled at your workplace. It must include the current safety data sheet for each chemical listed. Make sure everyone affected by the hazardous chemicals can view the register.

If you store chemicals, use a checklist to help keep them safe and ensure you are storing them correctly (see our one-page checklist at the end of this article).

For more information, visit the work health and safety regulator in your state.

  1. Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Channel Nine has reported on a spate of horrific injuries to small children and toddlers, following falls onto shopping rack and hooks in retailers including Target and K-Mart.

Several children have had to have emergency and reconstructive surgery to their eyes after colliding with metal hooks when they’ve fallen over or bent to collect an item off the floor, leaving them with catastrophic injuries.

The investigation by the television network has uncovered a range of incidents across various retailers and has led leading ophthalmologists to warn that placing any type of hook or rack at small children’s height is clearly fraught with danger. The potential for severe and permanent damage is incredibly high.

It would appear some retailers are beginning to make changes with the way they design and fit out their displays but the industry as a whole has been slow to follow.

Designers and shopfitters have a responsibility to ensure their installations are as safe as possible, not just for workers but also shoppers, of all sizes.

One of the five national priorities in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22, safety in design aims to prevent injuries by considering hazards as early as possible in the planning and design process, which includes design of plant, structures, substance as well as the work itself.

Safe design is the integration of hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to eliminate or minimise the risks of injury throughout the life of a product being designed. Of 639 work-related fatalities from 2006­­ to 2011, one-third (188) were caused by unsafe design or design-related factors contributed to the fatality. Of all fatalities where safe design was identified as an issue, one in five was caused by inadequate protective guarding for workers.

This lack of design around guarding extends beyond workers, and into the customer space, as the recent spate of horrific injuries on toddlers would prove.

What should you consider when designing a fit out to manage work health and safety risks?

  • The physical design of a product, or the way that product will be used.
  • Work layout to reduce the possibility of hazards occurring in the space.
  • Applying risk management principles to the design process to eliminate hazards that may occur – in this case, removing the dangers of hooks and hangers to small children
  • Designing work to minimise risk. Creating healthy and safe work requires jobs and tasks be designed to accommodate the abilities, diversity and vulnerabilities of workers, and providing them with the tools needed to conduct the work safely for everyone.

A design should also consider the functional requirements of the space. Make sure your store design considers the needs of both your business and customers. Safety is paramount for anyone who will spend time in the shop, so it should cater for people with disabilities or prams by providing ramps, handrails, lifts, wide aisles and hearing loops for sound systems, keeping any potentially dangerous hooks, rails or stands away from children, and providing easy and safe access throughout the space to move freely.

SafeWork Australia has developed a Model Code of Practice on Safe Design of Structures, developed to provide practical guidance to anyone conducting a business or undertaking who design structures that will be used, or could reasonably be expected to be used, as a workplace. This includes architects, building designers and engineers. This model Code is also relevant for anyone making decisions that influence the design outcome, such as clients, developers and builders*.

*To have legal effect in a jurisdiction, the model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice in that jurisdiction. To determine if this model Code of Practice has been approved as a code of practice in a particular jurisdiction, check with the relevant regulator.

You may know that crystalline silica is very commonly used in manufacturing building products and in construction materials. You may not know it’s killing workers at an alarming rate, and you don’t have to have worked around it for long to feel its effects.

Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in most rocks, sand, clay; and importantly, in products such as bricks, concrete, tile and composite stone.

For the shopfitting industry, workers may be exposed to crystalline silica when cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing, or during the installation of stone benchtops and other stone products.

The crystalline silica content in stone benchtops can vary widely depending on the type of stone used. Engineered stone products can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica. A natural stone like granite may contain from 20 to 60 per cent.

Silica particles can be so small that they are not visible, and they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, potentially leading to silicosis. Silicosis is a scarring of the lungs, resulting in loss of lung function that causes permanent disability and early death. It is incurable and continues to develop after exposure has stopped.

Fabricating and installing natural and artificial stone bench tops can release high levels of RCS through cutting, grinding and polishing processes, particularly when dry cutting methods are used.

If you or your workers operate powered hand tools to cut or grindstone, i.e. circular saws or grinders, you risk having some of the highest RCS exposures of all fabricators. This can occur in a workshop or on a job site during installation. Workers performing other tasks in areas where powered hand tools are used may also be exposed to high levels of dust.

In all states and territories of Australia, there is a duty on employers (or PCBUs – persons conducting a business or undertaking) to ensure the health and safety of workers and others. You must manage the risk from work tasks that involve crystalline silica.

From conducting a thorough review of all work tasks involving crystalline before you start, to considering where and how your workers are coming in contact with silica dust, the tools they are using, even where they eat meals and what they wear to go home… managing the high risk of working with crystalline silica cannot be ignored. Contact your state regulator for more information. SafeWork Australia also has a Technical Guide for Managing Silica Exposure in the Workplace.