Managing hazardous chemical risk for the retail and hair and beauty sectors

WorkSafe Victoria visits to retail and hair and beauty stores in recent months has highlighted a need for businesses to improve on their management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Between January and March 2021, WorkSafe Victoria visited 380 retail workplaces.  From those visits, 18 improvement notices were issued.  The main non-compliances observed by inspectors in retail, hair and beauty workplaces, included no Safety Data Sheets and no Hazardous Chemicals Register. 

A Safety Data Sheet provides information about the hazards of the substance, how to use it safely and is prepared by manufacturers and suppliers.

It doesn’t matter what State/Territory you operate in, or the size of your business and workforce, if you use chemicals that are classified as hazardous chemical and/or dangerous goods then you must comply with specific obligations under health and safety law, and dangerous goods law.  

So how do you know if a chemical is a dangerous good or hazardous chemical?

WorkSafe has suggested that the things to look out for on the product labelling are as follows:

  • Dangerous goods – easily identified, as a packing will usually display a diamond image – generally includes products such as gases, corrosives, flammable liquids etc..
  • Hazardous chemicals – usually will have a caution of some type on the label – e.g. poison

When in doubt, request an SDS from the manufacturer, importer or supplier.  Many SDS’s can now be accessed via either the manufacturer or supplier’s website. Upon viewing the SDS you you will see whether the chemical is hazardous, and/or classified as a dangerous good.  

What are the main obligations of retailers to manage the risks associated with chemicals in the workplace?

Retailers obligations to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals includes, but is not limited to:

1. Correct Labelling

  • Ensure that the chemical used at the workplace is correctly labelled

2. Safety Data Sheets

  • Obtain a current version (issued dates within the last 5 years) of a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for hazardous chemicals used in the workplace, on or before the first time the hazardous substance is supplied to the premises.  The SDS must be obtained from the manufacturer, importer or supplier of the chemical
  • Ensure that the current SDS for a hazardous substance is readily available to any workers who could be exposed to the chemical
  • Keep copies of SDSs in a location convenient to the work area in which the substance is used. Employers should also keep SDSs in languages other than English if appropriate.

Note: The Model Code of Practice for Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace states that an SDS is not required if the business is using a consumer or domestic chemical for its usual purpose (for example, washing dishes in the break room).  It’s important to note however that the Model Code of Practice is not applicable in Victoria or WA, therefore, obtaining and maintaining Safety Data Sheets for those domestic chemicals are necessary. 

3. Prepare and Maintain a Register

  • Prepare and maintain a register for all hazardous substances supplied to their workplace. A register must contain a list of the product identifiers of all hazardous/dangerous chemicals supplied to the workplace and be accompanied by the SDS for each of these substances. 
  • The register must be readily accessible by any employee who may be exposed to a hazardous substance at the workplace
  • Update the register when:
    • new hazardous substances are introduced to the workplace 
    • the use of an existing hazardous/dangerous chemical is discontinued 
    • the manufacturer or supplier provides a revised SDS.

Important: Retailers and retail warehouse operators do not need to keep a register of hazardous chemicals supplied in consumer packages where they are intended for retail sale and not intended to be opened on the premises of the retailer or retail warehouse operator. 

For retailers who pack hazardous chemicals as part of their operations, there are specific obligations imposed by the applicable health and safety Regulations. 

It must be noted that the rules for managing hazardous chemicals may vary slightly from State to State, and therefore retailers are urged to keep-up-to-date with local requirements. 

Disclaimer: The material within this update is provided for general information and educational purposes in summary form on topics which are current when it is first published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such.


Example 1:  Methylated spirits has both a CAUTION sign and a diamond symbol


Example 2 – Hazardous Classification


Example 3 – Dangerous Goods Classification


Example 4 – Hazardous chemicals/substances and dangerous goods register





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