Western Australia to Implement GHS

September 14, 2022

Western Australia has now joined all other Australian jurisdictions (excluding Victoria) in the adoption of harmonised work health and safety (WHS) laws, effective as of 31 March 2022. 

This WHS Act repeals the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA), and ensures that the adopted framework in WA is largely aligned with the national model WHS laws that have been in operation and progressively implemented across Australia since 2012. 

Victoria is now the only Australian jurisdiction to not use harmonised work health and safety laws.
Victoria is now the only Australian jurisdiction to not use harmonised work health and safety laws.

The Minister for Industrial Relations has also approved a series of Work Health and Safety Codes of practice which came into effect on 15 July 2022. These codes have been adapted for workplace environments in Western Australia from the Model codes of practice published by Safe Work Australia. 

What’s significant about the GHS?

The Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling (GHS) is a set of model regulations and recommendations created by the UN in 1992. This system allows for the standardisation of chemicals management worldwide, ensuring that conventions are consistent 

While it’s not law, the GHS is a set of recommendations that each country can tailor to their needs. This approach is often called the GHS Building Block approach; jurisdictions can choose which sections of the GHS they wish to implement into their already-existing regulations. Each jurisdiction is responsible for the upkeep of their own GHS rules. Despite not being an enforceable legal framework, the adherence to UN model regulations such as GHS relieves much of the burden caused by otherwise discordant chemicals management practice between jurisdictions. 

Each nation, state, or other jurisdiction may have their own legally binding occupational health and safety regulations, though many choose to model these closely to the GHS recommendations.
Each nation, state, or other jurisdiction may have their own legally binding occupational health and safety regulations, though many choose to model these closely to the GHS recommendations.

Codes of Practice

This new WHS ratifies much of the standardised practice used across most of Australia and internationally, making use of consistent conventions and terminology for the classification and labelling of chemicals. In addition, the Western Australia Work Health and Safety Commission has released over 20 new codes of practice to be used as practical guides to enacting workplace health and safety procedures across many industries. 

The most relevant codes of practice for the management and handling of chemicals are summarised below:

How to manage work health and safety risks

This code broadly outlines how to conduct the risk management process for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). This consists of a four-step process to identify hazards, assess risks, control risks, and review hazards and control measures. It also summarises the best practice for keeping records for compliance purposes. 

The key to good risk assessment is to determine what hazard and risk controls are ‘reasonably practical’. This includes determining the likelihood and degree of harm, as well as assessing the availability and suitability of risk controls. Other WHS approved codes of practice should be referenced for guidance on managing the risk of specific hazards. 

Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

This code applies to:

  • substances, mixtures and articles used, handled, generated or stored at the workplace which are defined as hazardous chemicals under the WHS Regulations.
  • the generation of hazardous chemicals from work processes, for example toxic fumes released during welding.

The most effective way to mitigate a risk is to remove it entirely, however this is not always possible—especially in the chemicals industry. As such, appropriate and sufficient control measures must be implemented to maximise worker safety. This code of practice covers the steps of identifying hazardous chemicals, the risk assessment and management process, control measures, health monitoring and review, and emergency preparedness should an accident occur. 

Labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals

This code applies to any substance, mixture or article classified as a hazardous chemical under the WHS Regulations, which is being used, handled, or stored in a workplace. Chemicals transported by road or rail are beholden to the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail rather than the WHS Act.

The code of practice explains what information must be included on a label, including a product identifier, constituent ingredients, manufacturer or importer information, and specific GHS label elements as shown below. The specific signal words, hazard statements, and pictograms will differ depending on the type and severity of a chemical hazard. 

Examples of hazard information on a label, which indicate the type and severity of the hazard.
Examples of hazard information on a label, which indicate the type and severity of the hazard. From Work Health and Safety Commission, Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplaces: code of practice.

Preparation of safety data sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals

This code provides practical guidance to PCBUs on how to prepare safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals that are being manufactured or imported for use, handling or storage in Australia. The code of practice defines the purpose and duties related to preparing SDS, what information is required in an SDS, and details the 16 mandatory sections of a GHS-compliant SDS. 

Chemwatch is here to help

If you have any questions about regulatory compliance, SDS authoring, chemical risk assessment, or inventory management, talk to the Chemwatch team today! We’re informed by over 30 years of chemical expertise and well equipped to help you with hazard identification and risk control. Contact us today at sales@chemwatch.net

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