Common hazardous substances

Many industrial, agricultural and medical organisations use hazardous substances. The degree of hazard depends on the concentration of the chemical. 

Common hazardous substances in the workplace include:
  • Acids
  • Caustic substances
  • Disinfectants
  • Glues
  • Heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminium
  • Paint
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum products
  • Solvents.

Possible side effects

Health effects depend on the type of hazardous substance and the level of exposure (concentration and duration). A hazardous substance can be inhaled, splashed onto the skin or eyes, or swallowed. Some of the possible health effects can include:
  • 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

Suggestions on reducing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace include:
  • Where possible, perform the task without using hazardous substances.
  • Where possible, substitute hazardous substances with less toxic alternatives.
  • Hazardous substances should be isolated from workers in separate storage areas.
  • Storage areas should be separately ventilated from the rest of the workplace.
  • Workers should be thoroughly trained in handling and safety procedures.
  • Personal protection equipment such as respirators, gloves and goggles should be worn.
  • The workplace should be regularly monitored with appropriate equipment to track the degree of hazardous substance in the air or environment.
  • Workers should be consulted regularly to maintain and improve existing safety and handling practices.
Labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Manufacturers and importers of hazardous substances are required by law to provide warning labels and MSDS with their products. 
Employers must ensure that the MSDS for each hazardous substance used in the workplace is available to workers, and that a central register of hazardous substances is established. The warning label on a product might feature cautionary words such as ‘corrosive’, ‘poison’ or ‘hazardous’. 
The MSDS lists important information on handling the product safely, including:
  • Potential health effects
  • Precautions for use
  • Safe storage suggestions
  • Emergency first aid instructions
  • Contact numbers for further information.

  • This information is an extract from WorkSafe Victoria's website.