The legality is that all states and territories have legislation in place that mandates that Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all hazardous chemicals should be made readily available and easily accessible to every person who may be exposed at the workplace. This includes employees, emergency services personnel and contractors. The legislations do not stipulate in which format—printed or electronic—the SDSs should be provided. Therefore, each workplace needs to make a site-specific decision regarding the format of the SDSs and their location. Schools need to follow the policy in their school or that of their school sector.
Science ASSIST recommends that schools should consider the following with regard to the provision of SDSs.
- Location of hazardous chemicals: whether there is one chemical store or several storage areas.
- Personnel who will need access to SDSs: this could include science teachers, technicians, the school nurse, the bursar/business manager, the property manager, contractors and emergency response personnel.
- The format in which to provide SDSs: either printed or electronic versions, or both.
Electronic copies require no physical space and it is beneficial for the environment as it cuts the cost of paper, ink and printing and is effortlessly accessed. An electronic storage program allows the search of a document in several different ways, making data files much easier to locate. In a school environment, electronic copies of SDSs can be stored on the school intranet system, e.g. WIKI, science department network space and/or via a chemical management system.
Printed copies are touchable and can be read out easily and are also easily accessible.
All schools should have a system in place to ensure that all SDSs are available in the event of foreseeable incidents, such as a power or network failure. In this case, printed copies of the SDSs can be used as a backup. It is a legislative requirement to manage the risks associated with all chemicals stored and used in the schools and workplaces. Not all chemicals in schools are hazardous, however it is useful to have information on all chemicals used in schools, which is provided by SDSs. Science ASSIST strongly recommends having at least electronic copies of the SDSs of all chemicals stored and used in the school.
Hazardous chemicals and substances have the potential to cause harm to human health. Safe Work Australia has the following definition:
“Workplace hazardous chemicals are substances, mixtures and articles used in the workplace that can be classified according to their health and physicochemical hazards. Health hazards are hazards like skin irritants, carcinogens or respiratory sensitisers that have an adverse effect on a worker’s health as a result of direct contact with or exposure to the chemical, usually through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Physicochemical hazards generally result from the physical or chemical properties, like flammable, corrosive, oxidising or explosive substances.”1
Further details regarding the two classification systems currently operating in Australia can also be found on the Safe Work Australia website.
- The Approved Criteria (AC) classification system
- The Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)
Legislation in Australia
Nationally harmonised Work Health and Safety laws—WHS
The WHS Act is based on the ‘model’ WHS Act developed by Safe Work Australia. The aim of this act is to provide all workers in Australia with the same standard of health and safety protection, regardless of the work they do or where they work. The harmonised work health and safety laws apply in the majority of jurisdictions, except Western Australia and Victoria. Western Australia, however, is currently consulting on options for implementing elements of the model. For progress on the adoption of the WHS see: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/model-whs-laws/pages/jurisdictional-progress-whs-laws
The work health and safety authority in each State and Territory is responsible for enforcing compliance with the WHS Regulations. For advice on compliancy of SDSs, contact the work health and safety authority in your jurisdiction
WHS Regulations (see the regulations in your jurisdiction)
Chapter 7 Hazardous Chemicals, Subdivision 3 Obligations of persons conducting businesses or undertakings, Regulation 344
For Victoria see https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/safety-data-sheets (Link update June 2019)
For WA see OSH Regulations 1996 http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/msds_dec_07.pdf
1. ‘Hazardous chemicals’, Safe Work Australia website http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/whs-information/hazardous-chemicals/pages/hazardous-chemicals-other-substances © Commonwealth of Australia 2014. (CC BY 3.0) (Accessed June 2015
‘Hazardous substances and dangerous goods’ - Safe Work Australia website www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/whs-information/hazardous-chemicals/dangerous-goods/pages/hazardous-substances (Accessed June 2015)
‘Information on hazardous substances’ May 2014, WA Department of Commerce website http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/hazardous-substances (last accessed 15 July 2016).
Safe Work Australia. July 2012. ‘Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace code of practice’ http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documen...
WA Department of Commerce, Commission for Occupational Safety and Health. 2007 Provision of information on hazardous substances at workplaces – Material Safety Data Sheets, WA Department of Commerce website http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/msds_dec_07.pdf
Work Safe Victoria, 2008 Your health and safety guide to hazardous substances Work Safe Victoria website https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/12366/hazard...