Hazardous Substances - An introduction to Legislation

Victoria has specific legislation covering hazardous substances and dangerous goods in the workplace. Issues at the workplace involving hazardous substances can be complex and technical. This information is an introduction to alert Health and Safety Representatives and others to the main provisions of legislation in Victoria.

You can get further assistance and advice on particular issues from:

  • The legislation itself
  • Your union
  • Information on this website
  • Your employer
  • Your safety officer or technical staff
  • Qualified consultants and industrial hygienists

Relevant Victorian Legislation:

1. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

Under the Act, employers have a general duty under Section 21 to provide and maintain for employees, as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. In addition, the Act has a number of references to "substances". These refer to all chemicals and chemical substances, and not only to those defined as "hazardous".

For instance, the Act requires employers to:

  • Make arrangements to ensure, so far as is practicable, safety and absence of risks in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of substances. (S.21 (2)(b)).
  • Provide such information, instruction, training and supervision to employees as are necessary to enable the employees to work safely and without risks to health (S.21 (2)(e)).
  • Monitor workplace conditions (S.22 (1)(b)).
  • Consult the health and safety representative/s and workers on workplace changes in substances used that may affect health and safety (S.35 (1)(f)).

(Numbers refer to the Section of the Act)

2. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 

Chapter 4 of the regulations covers Hazardous Substances and Materials:

Part 4.1: Hazardous substances (generally)
This part applies to all hazardous substances as defined below, and have details on matters such as how to determine a substance is 'hazardous', Material Safety Data Sheets, Labels, prohibited substances, identification and control of risks, monitoring and so on.  Summary of this part.

The next sections of the chapter deal with 'subsets' of Hazardous Substances

Part 4.2: Scheduled Carcinogenic Substances
This part applies to substances that cause cancer and have been listed by the Australian government on one of two schedules. Summary of this part.

Part 4.3: Asbestos
This very long part of the regulations details the duties of persons who manage or control workplaces, employers, and how and by whom asbestos removal can be carried out. Summary of this part.

Part 4.4: Lead
This part covers workplaces with 'lead processes' and details the requirements for hazard identification, risk control and specific health surveillance. Summary of this part.

NOTE: Victoria's regulations on chemicals is currently out of step with the national model Work Health and Safety regulations in that they do not reflect the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which has now been introduced by the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations as a means of classifying workplace hazardous chemicals and communicating their hazards through labelling and safety data sheets.

What is a "hazardous substance"?

A hazardous substance is one which fits the description (meets the criteria) of a hazardous substance either according to the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC:1008(2004] 3rd Edition and/or have National Exposure Standards declared under the Adopted National Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment [NOHSC:1003(1995)]. 

To assist in classification, Safe Work Australia maintains the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) - which is an online database containing classification information for hazardous substances that have been classified in accordance with the Approved Criteria. However, the HCIS database is not a comprehensive source of classification information for workplace substances. If a substance is not included on the HCIS database, this does not necessarily mean that the substance is not hazardous.     

If the hazardous substance is mixed with other substances, further investigation may be necessary by referring to the "type" of ingredient and finding out its concentration in the mixture.

3 - Dangerous Goods

The Dangerous Goods Act and associated (Storage and Handling) Regulations relate to immediate risks to people, property and the environment from an accident or incident such as fire, explosion, poisoning or corrosion due to chemicals. In other words, this Act and Regulations are most concerned with safety. The substances they cover may overlap those covered by the regulations covering hazardous substances, which aim to protect the health of people at work from short and long-term effects. On 27 November 2022 new regulations for the storage and handling of dangerous goods commenced. These regulations can be viewed or downloaded on this page of the Victorian legislation website.


See Also:

Last amended December 2022