Hazardous chemicals

  • Hazardous chemicals are commonly used or found in the construction industry. This can include paints, solvents, glues, fuels, asbestos and dust. Workers may be exposed to dangerous chemicals during construction work activities.

Some chemicals may produce health effects that can happen straight away like poisoning and burns, or cause long-term health conditions, like nerve damage, lung damage or cancer. Others can present a physical hazard like fires, explosions and corrosion.

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you have a duty to keep yourself, your workers and your workplace safe from risks associated with using hazardous chemicals at work. You must ensure that no one is exposed to a hazardous chemical in a way that exceeds the exposure standard. You may need to conduct air monitoring to determine the level of concentration of these chemicals in the air.


PCBU duties


Worker duties

  • Store hazardous chemicals safely and communicate hazard information to your workers
  • Correctly labelling all hazardous chemical containers and pipework using warning placards and safety signs
  • Keep a hazardous chemical register, which must include a copy of the current safety data sheet (SDS) for each hazardous chemical on the register
  • Keep a hazardous chemical manifest if the quantity is over the manifest threshold
  • Display placards if the hazardous chemical quantity is over the placard threshold
  • Not exceed workplace exposure standards for certain airborne hazardous chemicals
  • Provide health monitoring to workers for certain hazardous chemicals
  • Notify your WHS regulator as quickly as possible when: 
    • Someone has died 
    • Someone has a serious injury or illness and need urgent immediate treatment 
    • Someone was exposed to a substance and needed treatment within 48 hours 
    • There was a dangerous incident
  • Inform, train, instruct and supervise workers

Your PCBU has a duty to keep you and your workplace safe from risks associated with chemicals.

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your safety and that of others in the workplace. 

Comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your PCBU at the workplace.

Risk management

You have a duty to identify, assess and control risks in the workplace. When assessing the risk of hazardous chemicals, think about: 

  • The hazardous properties of the chemical. 
  • Potential reactions between the hazardous chemical and another substance or mixture, including hazardous substances the reaction may generate. 
  • The nature of the work involving the hazardous chemical. 
  • Any structure, plant or work system that could interact or involve with the hazardous chemical. 

The Model Code of Practice – Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace has more information on assessing and controlling hazardous chemical risks. 

For more information on your duties as a PCBU in relation to chemicals, please click here.

Keeping workers safe 

As a PCBU, you must store hazardous chemicals safely and communicate hazard information to your workers, including: 

Health monitoring for workers 

You must not exceed workplace exposure standards for certain airborne hazardous chemicals. 

You must also provide health monitoring to workers for certain hazardous chemicals. 

Notifying the regulator and emergency services 

You must notify the regulator as quickly as possible when: 

  • someone has died. 
  • someone has a serious injury or illness and need urgent immediate treatment. 
  • someone was exposed to a substance and needed treatment within 48 hours.
  • there was a dangerous incident. 

You must leave the incident site and not return, unless you need to: 

  • help an injured person. 
  • remove someone who has died. 
  • do things that are essential to make the site safe. 
  • stop further notifiable incidents. 

Police investigations and regulator or inspector permission override site preservation. 

If the hazardous chemical quantity is over its manifest quantity threshold, you must: 

  • notify your WHS regulator, and  
  • give local emergency services a copy of your emergency plan.  

You should also notify the regulator about abandoned underground tanks that previously stored flammable liquids or gases as soon as possible.  

Maintaining the work environment 

You should also: 

  • provide a spill containment system for hazardous chemicals (if necessary). 
  • control ignition sources and the build-up of flammable and combustible substances. 
  • maintain and check the stability and support of bulk containers of hazardous chemicals, including pipework.
  • decommission old hazardous chemical storage and handling systems correctly and safely.  

Suppliers of hazardous chemicals 

Hazardous chemical suppliers, including intermediaries in the supply chain like distributors, on-sellers and wholesalers, must: 

  • be 16 years of age or older 
  • ensure as far as reasonably practicable that supplied chemicals are not a risk to health and safety 
  • ensure they do not supply hazardous chemicals they know are not labelled correctly 
  • provide SDS with the hazardous chemical. 

Manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals 

If you make or import hazardous chemicals, including if you package or re-label hazardous chemicals with your business’s own name, you must: 

  • ensure chemicals you make or import are, so far as reasonably practicable, not a risk to health and safety. 
  • correctly classify hazardous chemicals. 
  • correctly prepare labels and SDS for the hazardous chemical. 

The Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) can help you find GHS classification information on chemicals. 

Transporting hazardous chemicals 

The model WHS Regulations do not apply to transporting hazardous chemicals. There are laws in each state and territory for transporting hazardous chemicals. 

If you transport hazardous chemicals by road or rail: 

If you are transporting hazardous chemicals by air or by sea, contact: 

Further information about chemical hazards can be found in the Hazardous Chemical Information System. Hazardous chemicals will also have a safety data sheet, which sets out information about the chemical’s hazards and how to handle them safely, including any personal protective equipment that may be needed. 

See Part 7.1 of the Model WHS regulations for more information. 

For more information

Model codes of practice

Other resources

  • Did you know

    The WHS regulator in your state or territory can provide practical advice, resources and tools to help you be safe when working in construction. They can also let you know which WHS laws apply to you.