The legal definition of chemical agents is complex, but put simply chemicals are substances, many simple such as cleaning fluids, which contain substances that might harm health. The legal definition covers chemical agents assigned an occupational exposure limit value in the Code of Practice to the regulations.
Carrying out a Risk Assessment
When carrying out a risk assessment employers must take account of: the hazardous properties of chemical agents; information available from suppliers; information on safety data sheets. They must also consider the type and duration of exposure work, circumstances and the quantities of chemical stored; occupational exposure limit values and biological limit values in the Code of Practice to the Chemical Agents Regulations; the effects of preventative measures; conclusions from health surveillance; and activities including the maintenance and accidental release in respect of which it is foreseeable that there is potential for significant exposures.
Risk assessments should be recorded in writing. They should be reviewed regularly or if there are reasons to suspect that the risk assessment is no longer valid, when there have been changes in work practice, when health surveillance results show it is necessary or exposure limits have been exceeded.
Having assessed the hazards (if any) associated with a chemical (whether substance or preparation), there is a legal obligation to communicate this information effectively to those handling the chemical. Risks can be identified by reference to hazard labels and safety data sheets. The hazard label gives immediate information, which is, of necessity, brief. The safety data sheet gives more detailed information on many aspects of the product's health and safety characteristics.
Where the risk assessment reveals a risk, employers must, in so far as is reasonably practicable, reduce the risk by:
- the design and organisation of safe system of work
- the provision of suitable equipment
- reducing to a minimum the number of employees exposed
- reducing the duration and intensity of exposure
- putting in place hygiene measures (including washing facilities)
- reducing the quantity of chemicals to a minimum
- having safe handling, storage and transport arrangements.
Employers must draw up action plans to deal with emergencies/accidents/incidents. Action plans must include arrangements for regular safety drills, first-aid facilities, warning and communications systems, and the provision of protection clothing and PPE.
Employers are required to make health surveillance available when employees’ exposure to a hazardous chemical is such that an identifiable disease or adverse health effect may be related to the exposure and to keep individual health records.