Chemical safety warning label

SafeWork NSW has released a safety alert after workers suffered severe chemical burns to their feet whilst cleaning chemical spills in restaurant and hotel kitchens in two separate incidents. On both occasions the workers did not notice the caustic chemicals soaking into their footwear (casual soft soled shoes) and socks and it was not until they later removed their shoes that they saw they had severe burns to their feet.

SafeWork NSW said that severe burns like those suffered by the workers, can be relatively painless due to the damage caused to the sensory nerves in the skin which is possibly why the workers were unaware of their injuries until they took off their shoes.

The severe burns were caused by highly caustic chemicals commonly used in automatic dishwashing machine detergents, oven and grill top cleaners, as well as some grease cleaners.

SafeWork NSW is urging café and restaurant kitchen operators to be aware of the hazards associated with using chemicals in the workplace and reminding employers and business owners that they have a duty to educate workers on the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace and to ensure that they are safe from harm.

During the investigations, SafeWork NSW found several contributing factors which led to the incidents, such as:

  • Failure to conduct a basic risk assessment to identify hazardous chemicals.
  • Poorly maintained hazardous chemical registers.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) which contain essential information about working with hazardous materials, had not been sourced or supplied to workers.
  • Inadequate information and training had been provided to workers regarding chemical hazards and dealing with spills.
  • Failure to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or require workers to wear correct footwear when working with hazardous chemicals.
  • No spill or injury management and reporting procedures.

Business owners, employers and managers should take note of the processes they have in place to manage and reduce the risk of chemical burns in the workplace. Failure to implement an appropriate framework to manage the use of hazardous chemical in the workplace can result in fines or prosecutions for breach of workplace health and safety laws.

NRA recommends that you take the following steps to minimise the possibility of a workplace incident and meet your obligations under the legislation:

  • Develop a hazardous chemical register.
  • Undertake a risk assessment of hazardous chemicals in the workplace and take steps to remove these chemicals (eliminate) or replace them (substitute) with less hazardous chemicals.
  • Make sure that SDS’s are readily available to all workers.
  • Ensure that all workers have received instruction, training and have supervision on the safe use, storage and handling of hazardous chemicals.
  • Ensure that all workers read and follow all instructions on chemical labels.
  • Educate your workers on spill management procedures and ensure that appropriate PPE, including gloves and chemical resistant footwear, is provided and used.
  • Prepare and install control measures, such as dispensary devices and spill trays, where hazardous chemicals are being used at work.
  • Prepare and implement spill, injury and incident reporting and notification procedures.

Taking these steps will go some of the way to fulfilling your legal obligation to provide a safe work environment for your employees.

If you require any assistance managing and reducing the risk associated with using hazardous chemicals in the workplace, do not hesitate to contact the NRA on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245). Our workplace advisors are on hand to help you implement the policies and procedures your business needs to protect your workers.