Safe handling of chemicals

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Many standards are available to help organisations to identify chemicals and set up processes to transport, handle, and store chemicals safely.

Workers can be injured by chemical accidents, fires, leaks or and spills if the safety requirements for handling chemicals aren’t clear. Many standards are available to help organisations to identify chemicals and set up processes to transport, handle, and store chemicals safely.

These standards reduce the risk of chemical exposure and protect workers, the environment, and the public. They provide best practice safety requirements for transporting dangerous goods, responding to an emergency or accident, handling chemicals, and protective clothing.

Safety during transport

The chemical, packaging, and transport industries use New Zealand’s standard for the transport of dangerous goods on land, NZS 5433, to meet the latest safety requirements.

Users of the standard include organisations that make, package, transport, or regulate the transport of dangerous goods by road or rail within New Zealand.

The standard covers best practice to reduce the risk of harm, including how to package, label, and separate dangerous goods during transport. Part 1 covers the technical information including classification and packaging performance standards. Part 2 is a list of dangerous goods with rules that apply to particular dangerous goods.

In addition to the standard, there are several NZS 5433 tools that transport companies can use to comply with safety requirements. These tools include declaration forms, a wall chart, and a segregation wheel. This wheel is a quick reference guide on which dangerous goods can and cannot be carried with other dangerous goods.

Standards New Zealand updated NZS 5433 in 2012, to align it with the latest United Nations recommendations and New Zealand regulations. An expert committee consulted widely with affected parties and the revision process included technical review by industry experts and public input.

Whenever a standard is developed or revised, Standards New Zealand uses this consensus-based approach to ensure the standard is practical and widely supported. 

Emergency response

If something goes wrong, people handling chemicals need to know what to do. A useful handbook is available that provides emergency response information on how to deal with accidents, spills, leaks or fires involving dangerous goods.

The handbook, SAA/SNZ HB 76:2010 Dangerous goods – Initial emergency response guide, provides advice that anyone first on the scene of an incident should be able to follow. It fits in a vehicle glove compartment – it’s durable, A5, and wiro-bound.

Trained emergency responders use the handbook, but it also provides step-by-step instructions. This means that people without a technical background can respond to dangerous goods emergencies safely and effectively.

The handbook isn’t a substitute for emergency response training, experience, and sound judgement. But, if it’s used properly, it will speed up emergency response and help prevent an incident from becoming a catastrophe.

Protection and safe handling

Safety standards for agrichemicals, ammonia, chlorine gas, combustible dust, dangerous goods and articles, and toxic substances include:

  • agrichemicals – NZS 8409:2004 Management of agrichemicals
  • ammonia – AS/NZS 2022:2003 Anhydrous ammonia – Storage and handling
  • chlorine gas – AS/NZS 2927:2001 The storage and handling of liquefied chlorine gas
  • combustible dusts – AS/NZS 4745:2012 Code of practice for handling combustible dusts
  • dangerous goods and articles – AS/NZS 4681:2000 The storage and handling of Class 9 (miscellaneous) dangerous goods and articles
  • toxic substances – AS/NZS 4452:1997 The storage and handling of toxic substances.

Protective clothing

Clothing that complies with these standards meets the minimum safety requirements. Protective clothing standards include:

  • eyes – AS/NZS 1336:2014 Eye and face protection – Guidelines
  • footwear – AS/NZS 2210.3:2009 – Occupational protective footwear – Specification for safety footwear
  • gloves – The AS/NZS 2161 series for occupational protective gloves, including protective gloves against chemicals
  • lungs – AS/NZS 1715:2009 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment
  • protective clothing against liquid chemicals – AS/NZS 4503 Parts 2 and 3 Protective clothing – protection against liquid chemicals.

Standards provide critical support to the safe handling of chemicals. They help workplaces and workers to improve safety, provide protection, reduce accidents involving chemicals, and respond to emergencies safely and effectively.

This article by Standards New Zealand first appeared in Industrial Safety News, Sept/Oct 2014.

Published in consumer and occupational safety.