Schools have a legal responsibility to safely manage the risks associated with the storage, labelling and disposal of chemicals (also referred to as Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods) stored and used on the school site.
Schools are responsible for keeping records of the chemicals stored and/or used on-site, which can be achieved via a Chemical Register. The chemical register can be used to list the manufacturer/supplier of each chemical, quantities stored on-site, location of chemicals and whether it is a dangerous good and/or hazardous substance. There a numerous areas where chemicals can be found, below is a list of just some of these areas:
- art rooms
- kitchens/canteens (including break out rooms)
- maintenance/garden sheds
- science labs
- storage areas (including cleaner’s cupboards)
- swimming pools
- workshops (metal/woodwork).
Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
It is the responsibility of senior management to ensure that all chemicals stored and used have an up-to-date Safety Data Sheet (SDS) available; this is a document that provides critical information about hazardous chemicals and can be obtained either directly from the manufacturer or supplier or via an online database such as:
All SDS should be stored at the point of use, as well as at a centralised location usually reception.
Managing Chemicals used or stored on the school site
- Inspect the school buildings and grounds (cleaner’s cupboard, classrooms, maintenance and storage sheds, art room, science lab and staff room) for cleaning chemicals, paints, oils, LPG gas bottles, chemicals for science experiments, glues, herbicides, etc.
- Ensure all containers and decanted substances are correctly labelled and not deteriorating or leaking.
- Obtain SDSs for each substance from the supplier or their website. Note: An SDS should not be in an electronic form. It should be paper based and easily accessible in the event of an emergency.
- Conduct a risk assessment (on substances identified) and develop safe work procedures for substances with a high or extreme rating.
- Create a centrally located list of all chemicals on the school site, ensuring that they are listed in a Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods Register. It may be required in the event of an emergency.
- Ensure that paper-based SDSs are located in the work areas where individual substances are used or stored.
- Ensure appropriate storage areas are provided for chemicals (e.g. locked storage rooms, flame proof cabinets, flammable items stored at least 5 metres away from ignition sources, LPG cylinders stored away from impact risks, etc.).
- Display appropriate signage, highlighting the hazardous nature of chemicals used or stored on site.
- Inspect and maintain safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets, exhaust ventilation fans, etc.
- Train staff in the correct use of chemicals and keep appropriate training records.
If a school wants to obtain the services of an external consultant to come on-site and develop a chemical register, then the OHS team is able to provide details of suitable providers to perform this work.
Procurement of Chemicals
To limit the purchase, use and storage of dangerous goods and hazardous substances, it is best practice for schools to implement the use of an approved list of chemicals. If this is implemented then it allows senior management to review the SDS of any new chemical staff wish to purchase, and conduct a risk assessment prior to providing approval.
Chemical Risk Assessments
To ensure chemicals are used safely, a risk assessment should be carried out on chemicals used and stored within the school. The risk assessment will identify the hazards associated with each chemical, and identify suitable risk controls to ensure each chemical is used, stored and disposed of safely.
Relevant staff and health and safety representatives need to be consulted during this process, as well as referring to safety data sheets for technical information. All chemicals regardless of location must be risk assessed and reviewed, preferably every three years. Risk assessments should be reviewed sooner if a new supplier / manufacturer is used, or if there are any changes in how a chemical is used or stored
Labelling of Chemicals
All chemical storage containers must be clearly labelled, and appropriate for use (refer to the SDS for more information). Labels should identify the chemical name, quantity, hazard statement(s), signal word(s), hazard pictogram, manufacturer / supplier and an expiry date (if applicable).
When decanting chemicals it is important to ensure that the container used is suitable for the chemical contents and preferably be of a type that is recommended by the manufacturer or supplier. Decanted chemicals should also be labelled with the product identifier and hazard pictograms or hazard statements, as a minimum
Storage and Disposal
Schools need to ensure that quantities of chemicals stored meet their needs, and that excessive quantities of chemicals are not being purchased. It is important that staff refers to the safety data sheet when considering storage of the chemical, and that any incompatible chemicals are appropriately segregated. Any chemicals stored that exceed minor storage quantities of dangerous goods must have placards provided as a visual warning.
It is best practice for staff to conduct an annual school wide collection and disposal of chemicals by a licensed chemical disposal company. To arrange for the collection and disposal of chemicals contact one of the EPA approved chemical companies via the EPA Prescribed Industrial Waste database. When disposing of chemicals care must be taken to ensure it is properly packaged, labelled and stored in a suitable designated area whilst awaiting collection. Staff must wear the appropriate PPE as per the SDS, and appropriately label chemicals
Where it is deemed necessary (refer to SDS), schools should conduct health surveillance to ensure that no one is exposed to concentrations of a substance that are above the exposure standard (if any), for that substance. Any health surveillance that must be conducted will be carried out at a frequency recommended by either the SDS, WorkSafe Victoria or other relevant authority.
Schools should ensure that there are appropriate emergency provisions in place in the event of a chemical emergency, and must communicate these provisions to their staff. The emergency provisions could include:
- spill kits or containment equipment
- safe work procedures for spills or release of chemicals
- fire blankets/extinguishers
- first aid kits
- eye wash stations/eye wash kits/emergency showers
- emergency shutdown procedures for equipment
- appropriate numbers of trained emergency wardens and first aiders
- appropriately displayed emergency contact details
- personal protective equipment.