AUST – Work Place Safety Assessors advise that the Safety requirements under the new Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws are broadly consistent with the previous legislation, but some changes may be needed in workplace systems and training, to meet obligations under the new laws to ensure your emergency planning is adequate. These new laws are based on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

This article addresses areas affected by the GHS, including classification, packaging, storage and handling, labelling, registers, control of risks and health monitoring all affecting the Emergency Planning Committee decisions.

Global Harmonized System

Dangerous goods and hazardous substances have long been regulated separately, but the legislative frameworks for these two groups of chemicals have now been aligned into a single system to be used around the world. The GHS is a single internationally agreed system published by the United Nations, and chemical safety requirements under the new WHS laws are based on this system.

Main changes

Legal requirements for hazardous substances and dangerous goods are now incorporated into a single set of rules for the use, handling and storage of workplace hazardous chemicals. They apply in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth, and will apply in Tasmania after 1 January 2013. In the other jurisdictions, chemical safety requirements under pre-model laws continue to apply. However, in organisations operating in jurisdictions where GHS-based chemical safety requirements are not likely to be implemented during 2013, understanding and using the GHS-based system will still be required because many products will inevitably be sourced from or sold in jurisdictions and countries using the GHS. The intention is for these rules to be adopted across Australia. The main changes under the GHS-based laws are:

  • The WHS laws regulate ‘hazardous chemicals’, including both hazardous substances and dangerous goods
  • The primary duty holder is the ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU), a broader category than ‘employers’
  • No specific requirement for written risk assessments (though these may still be advisable)
  • Changes in labelling
  • ‘Safety data sheets’ (SDS) replace ‘material safety data sheets’ (MSDS)
  • More substances require placarding.

Implications for workplaces organisations will have to arrange appropriate training in preparing or using the new labels and SDS. Workplace systems such as registers, placards, manifests and safety signs need to be reviewed and updated for compliance with the new laws.

Work Health Safety Legislation

Refer to our Work Health Safety Legislation table for further statutory information on safe occupation of a building.