Hand Sanitisers are Hazardous Chemicals – Is your workplace compliant? Opira Blog

The ongoing threat of COVID-19 has altered the workplace forever. One of the permanent changes is the now common use of hand sanitisers into the workplace.

Hand sanitisers that are so widely used are similar in packaging to normal hand washing dispensers. They can be easily mistaken as innocuous and safe to use. However, the majority of hand sanitisers are considered a hazardous chemical and can create a hazard within the workplace if not used properly.

Some of the physical and health hazards posed by hand sanitisers due to the high content of alcohol (usually ethanol) are listed below.

  • Classified as flammable liquids
  • May form flammable vapour mixtures with air
  • Vapour may travel a considerable distance to a source of ignition and flashback.
  • Heating (i.e., left in direct sunlight) can cause expansion or decomposition leading to violent rupture of containers.
  • When mixed with specific incompatible chemicals like bleach. Bleach reacts with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol to produce chloroform, hydrochloric acid and other hazardous compounds.
  • The material may be an irritant to mucous membranes and the respiratory tract.
  • Skin contact is not typically harmful however entry into the blood-stream, through cuts, abrasions or lesions may produce systemic injury with harmful effects.
  • Accidental ingestion of the material may be damaging to the health of the individual
  • May be an eye irritant.

Hand sanitisers used in a workplace need to be assessed in accordance with work health and safety legislation which requires hazards to be identified, the risk assessed of harm to a person from each hazard and steps taken to reduce the risk at the workplace and a responsibility to maintain a safe working environment.

There are a number of recommendations to implement for the use of hand sanitisers in the workplace to ensure health and safety and the responsibilities according to legislation are met, this includes:

  • Store in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.
  • All potential sources of ignition (open flames, pilot lights, furnaces, spark producing switches and electrical equipment, etc.) must be avoided.
  • Store away from foodstuffs and oxidising agents (bleach for example)
  • If a spill occurs wear protective equipment to prevent skin and eye contamination and vapour inhalation. Wipe up with absorbent (clean rag or paper towels). Collect and seal in properly labelled containers or drums for disposal.
  • Ensure the building occupants using the products are aware of the potential hazards and responses required in the event of accidental exposure, spillage, fire and disposal.

Of course, all of this information is available on the specific safety data sheet for the hand sanitiser and should be easily available in the event of any potential hazards that arise.

The product should also be listed on the hazardous chemical register with all other hazardous chemicals that are stored onsite. It is a legislative requirement to ensure a hazardous chemical register for ALL identified hazardous chemicals has been collated and regularly updated for each workplace.

This should also be associated with a hazardous chemical management plan that makes clear the requirements and responsibilities for using hazardous chemicals. This includes emergency contacts, emergency response, training, hazard reporting, risk assessment process, general site safety rules for hazardous chemicals, correct labelling, understanding chemical incompatibilities and the list goes on.

This can all sound daunting but Opira assists our clients to meet all obligations according to the relevant health and safety hazardous chemical requirements including identifying potential non-compliances and compiling all safety data sheets into a central online repository easily accessible from scanning a QR code.

Contact Mark at mark.graham@opira.com.au today for a discussion on how to effectively manage hazardous chemicals within your workplace.

Helpful Resources:

Model Code of Practice: Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Managing risks of storing chemicals in the workplace

- Written by Mark Graham, January 2021.

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