‌What are chemical agents and why must they be risk assessed?

Chemical agents are defined by specific EU directives as any agent which by virtue of its properties or the way it is used, presents a risk to the safety and health of employees. Chemicals must be risk assessed to ensure that they are appropriately managed and that the necessary control measures are in place (Reg. 4 of the Chemical Agents Regulations 2001). 

What first 3 steps must our Unit take to properly risk assess (banded risk assessment) the chemicals we have, use?

We must ensure that a safe system of work for the purchasing, storage, use and disposal of chemicals is implemented in our Unit.  The Health and Safety Authority website, Chemical Regulations Guidance and Code of Practice (2020) provide further details on safe chemical management and risk assessment which are summarized in the following 5 steps and Procedure:  

1.    Identify the chemical hazards (the full life cycle of the chemical agent).
Reduce unnecessary chemical stocks, complete a full inventory of all the chemicals held using the NUI Galway Chemical Inventory Template (and Policy QA 109 Chemical Agents Inventories) and ensure the ‌ are followed. 

2.    Consider who might be affected and how they might be harmed (including sensitive risk groups). Consider all the potential exposure routes, which employees or others could be at risk and ensure access to the current Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

3.    Evaluate the risks - what are you doing and what further precautions are needed?
Assess the chemical risks on the basis of the major chemical bands where appropriate.   The inventory template facilitates this as it identifies the following different bands of chemicals held in your Unit.

What are the major chemical bands for chemical risk assessment (and categorisation) purposes?

  1. Basic Chemical Safety Principles
  2. Flammables and Explosives
  3. Corrosives and Irritants
  4. Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reproductive Toxicants (CMRs) - GUIDANCE NOTE ONLY
  5. Oxidisers and Reactives
  6. Toxic-Substances
  7. Gases-Under-Pressure
  8. Respiratory-Sensitisers
  9. Skin-Sensitisers

What chemicals must be individually risk assessed?

Certain individual chemicals because of their particular risks will need to be individually risk assessed. This applies to various chemicals including: Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reproductive Toxicants (CMRs)

Certain individual chemicals because of their particular risks will need to be individually risk assessed.  This applies to various chemicals including Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reproductive Toxicants.  

What are the 4th and 5th steps that our Unit must do to complete our chemical risk assessments?

4.    Document and implement your findings (refer to the specific controls to be used e.g. actual glove-type required).
The risk assessments need to cover the actual use of the chemical(s) (and other agents, equipment, etc.) in the activity or project.  The Activity/Project Risk Assessment form is to be used to collectively assess the risks as they arise in use. 

5.    Update and review as required. 
Chemical risk assessments must be reviewed and updated at least annually and more frequently where required and must be in consultation with relevant employees. 

Are there regulations which restrict the use of common chemicals which are known as “Explosive Precursors”?

Yes, Regulation EU 2019/1148 (20th June 2019) deals with the marketing and use of explosives precursors.  This is a broad category of substances or mixtures many of which are quite common including nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, acetone etc.  These regulations are enforced by suppliers and require specific purchaser information. The regulations came into effect on 1st February 2021.  See Restricted use of explosive precursor regs for more information.

Is there introductory chemical safety training available online? 

Yes, these include:
Why assess chemicals?

HSA Online Training:
Chemical Safety in the Workplace - 1st course

Chemical Safety in the Workplace - 2nd course

Is there a standard label I should use when (re)labelling chemicals or intermediary containers?

To ensure that chemical solutions are clearly identified use the linked labels provided by the NCBES Safety Team. 

1. Print off colour labels using Avery QuickPEEL L7160 63.5 x 38.1 mm labels.

2. Chemical users then fill in the name of the solution, it's concentration, their (printed) name and the date.    

3. Black out (with a marker) the hazard pictogram(s) that do not apply to that particular chemical agent. Leaving only the applicable pictogram(s) visible. 

4.  Put the chemical label on the container(s) and wash off when no longer needed (e.g. soak in detergent). 

What other chemical safety information resources are available for me to use? 

University of Galway Safety Statement
Chemical Agents
Compressed Gases
Chemical Spills - Emergency Action Plan
Appendix 5 Audit Checklist: Laboratory Areas
Basic Principles for the safe use of Chemicals
HSA Chemical Code of Practice link 2021

Other NUI Galway Resources:
Fume Cupboard Unit Weekly Checklist
Picric Acid Guidance Note

SDS - 
Safety Data Sheets
Chemical Safety Training Slides – Coming Soon

Health & Safety Authority:
EC Risk and Safety Phrases/Newer Hazard and Precautionary Statements - see HSA Chemical Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Poster
Chemical Safety in the Workplace (HSA)