What does the law ‘say’ about the safe management of chemicals?
Under the Federal Constitution the Commonwealth Government has only limited powers over matters internal to State operations. On matters such as occupational health and safety and the administration of business affairs within a State, the Federal Government cannot impose legislation that conflicts with State powers.
Consequently, each jurisdiction (State or Territory) has its own legislative drafting conventions, and its own institutional structure for regulating the management of chemicals. For example:
- jurisdictions may have Acts that do not exist in other jurisdictions
- the scope of legislation can vary
- penalties for non-compliance and appeal mechanisms may differ
- interpretation Acts vary across jurisdictions
- terms used in legislation may have different definitions in different jurisdictions
- sections of Acts are numbered differently.
Workplace chemicals are regulated as either ‘hazardous substances’ (substances that are toxic to people’s health) or ‘dangerous goods’ (goods that pose a physical hazard, such as explosion or flammability), or both. Some states (including New South Wales and Tasmania) regulate all workplace chemicals through one piece of legislation. Other jurisdictions have a Dangerous Goods Act that covers dangerous goods and an Occupational Health and Safety Act that covers hazardous substances.
National consistency has, however, largely been achieved through the harmonisation of subordinate legislation (such as regulations, standards and codes of practice).
How should chemicals be safely managed?
Legislation does not usually specify exactly what you must do to manage chemical hazards, only the performance objectives that must be met (the elimination or minimisation of the risk of harm that chemicals may cause).
There is a mandatory process that must be followed, involving:
- identification of any hazard
- assessment of the risk posed by that hazard, and
- control measures that must be implemented to avoid or manage that hazard to eliminate or minimise harm (there control measures in strict order of preference include:- elimination, substitution or adoption of a safer substance or process, the implementation of engineering controls including enclosure or isolation of any hazard, administrative control measures such as the development of procedures and training, and the provision and wearing of personal protective equipment).
All AIDGC members are familiar with local laws and federal laws pertaining to these matters, and in particular the underpinning concepts and strategy options for helping you safely manage your chemicals.