Hazardous substances

What are hazardous substances?

Hazardous substances are substances that can harm people’s health. They may be solids, liquids, or gases. In the workplace, they are often in the form of fumes, dusts, mists, and vapours.

Examples of hazardous substances

  • acute toxins such as cyanide
  • substances harmful after repeated or prolonged exposure such as mercury and silica
  • corrosives such as sulphuric acid and caustic soda
  • irritants such as ammonia
  • sensitising agents such as isocyanates
  • cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) such as benzene and vinyl chloride

Health effects of hazardous substances

You can inhale hazardous substances or absorb them through the skin. They can cause immediate and long-term health problems. Health effects include poisoning, irritation, chemical burns, sensitisation, cancer and birth defects. Hazardous substances can also cause diseases of organs such as the skin, lungs, liver, kidneys and nervous system.

Other effects maybe:

  • poisoning
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache
  • skin rashes, such as dermatitis
  • chemical burns
  • birth defects
  • disorders of the lung, kidney or liver
  • nervous system disorders.

Reducing exposure to hazardous substances

Some suggestion on how to reduce the risk of exposure at your workplace:

  • where possible, perform the task without using hazardous substances
  • where possible, substitute hazardous substances with less hazardous alternatives (for example, use a detergent in place of a chlorinated solvent for cleaning)
  • isolate hazardous substances in separate storage areas
  • purge or ventilate storage areas separately from the rest of the workplace
  • thoroughly train employees in handling and safety procedures
  • provide personal protection equipment such as respirators, gloves and goggles
  • regularly monitor the workplace with appropriate equipment to track the degree of hazardous substance in the air or environment
  • regularly consult with employees to maintain and improve existing safety and handling practices.
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