Monday, June 25, 2012

Managing Chemicals in the Workplace

Managing Chemicals in Workplaces

Chemicals are used extensively in workplaces. Many useful products such as paints, plastics, adhesives, detergents and pharmaceuticals are derived from chemicals. For many toxic chemicals, the health effects may take a long period of time to develop. 

Hazardous chemicals in the workplace can generally be categorised into three different types viz physical hazards (e.g. flammable, explosive, and reactive), health hazards (e.g. toxic, corrosive, narcotic, irritating and carcinogenic) and environmental hazards (e.g. aquatic toxicity and ozone depleting).

In Singapore, the more hazardous chemicals are regulated or licensed by relevant authorities. For example, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has licensing control over some 121 hazardous substances, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) regulates petroleum and flammable substances and the Singapore Police Force regulates the explosive precursors.

MOM administers the WSH Act and its subsidiary regulations relating to the safety, health and welfare of persons at work in workplaces. The WSH (General Provisions) Regulations has a number of provisions for protecting workers and employed persons against hazardous chemicals. These include container labelling and safety data sheets, prevention and control of airborne contaminants, regular workplace monitoring, and competent persons to take charge of hazardous chemicals.  The WSH (Medical Examinations) Regulations requires compulsory medical examinations for workers exposed to 17 prescribed toxic chemicals.

Please see the Hazardous substances listed under the WSHA 5th schedule here.

The exposure to chemicals at work may result in occupational disease over time. Please refer to occupational disease statistics here.

Chemical contact or exposure can also lead to fatalities at workplace. A chemical spill incident on 27 Feb 2009 claimed the lives of four workers who succumbed to chemical burns shortly after the incident (please see MOM Press Release and the WSH Council Press Release).

Hence, a comprehensive and effective programme for workplace using hazardous chemicals is necessary for early risk detection and intervention.

Management of Hazardous Chemicals Programme
The Management of Hazardous Chemicals Programme (MHCP) is initiated under the Workplace Health Strategy to enhance chemical management at workplace, and to prevent or control chemical hazards as well as to protect persons at work against such hazards. Its objective is to prevent occupational diseases, injuries and fatalities from hazardous chemicals.

Accidents or incidents involving hazardous chemicals can happen at any stage of the life cycle of the chemicals viz manufacturing, transportation, storage, handling, usage, and disposal if these chemicals are not properly managed.  Accidents may happen because of inadequacy of safety and supervisory measures and/or lack of information and training concerning the hazards associated with the chemicals and the processes. For instance, exposure to chemicals handled or manufactured at workplace can result in the excessive absorption of chemicals and chemical poisoning. There has been a rise in fatalities from 0 to 4 due to exposure or contact with harmful substances from 2008 to 2009 and recorded zero fatality in 2010.

Occupational diseases arising from chemical exposure in workplace over time highlight the importance of hygiene and medical monitoring as well as good management of the chemicals at workplace. A monitoring programme via medical surveillance and hygiene monitoring can help to identify high risk processes or operations. Upon identification, the company can implement control measures and monitor workers’ exposure to specific hazards.

For more information on managing hazardous chemicals in your workplace, please click HERE.

Singapore Competent Authorities on Chemical Management
There are several agencies which regulates hazardous chemicals with specific inherent properties and at different stages of their life cycle.

1. The Minisitry of Manpower regulates the exposure to chemicals at workplaces; please refer to the MOM legislation for more information.

2. The National Environment Agency (NEA) regulates hazardous substances which are highly toxic and/or generates toxic wastes. For more information about the Hazardous Substances Control programme in NEA, please refer to this link.

3. Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) regulates the storing and transportation of flammable materials including petroleum. Please refer to this link for more information about the Fire Safety Licensing and Enforcement.

4. Singapore Police Force (SPF) regulates the manufacture and storage of explosive precursors. Please click here for the list of chemical precursors regulated and the requirements to hold a license to deal with these chemicals.