Most materials can be hazardous or dangerous to the environment if handled or stored inappropriately. Many hazardous substances such as chemical products are commonly used on building sites. Some hazardous substances, such as lead paint and asbestos, may have been used in the past. All require special precautionary practices to protect both the environment and your health.
Builders must also have in place practices and procedures to prevent accidental leaks and spills of potentially hazardous materials. Correct handling, carrying and storage of materials can help prevent pollution of the ground, stormwater drains and local waterways.
Labels and material safety data sheets
- Always read and follow the information on the labels of chemical products. The label will have essential information about the possible harmful effects of the chemical, and procedures for safe use.
- Obtain material safety data sheets (MSDS) for all chemicals. They contain information about the chemical concerned and how to safely store, use and dispose of it. If you do not have MSDSs, request them from your chemical supplier.
- Avoid products and chemicals that can affect your health and damage the environment. There may be less environmentally damaging materials on the market than those you are currently using. Ask your supplier.
- Always read the manufacturers' health warnings and follow safe practices.
Lead paint was used extensively in houses and buildings until 1970. If you are renovating or demolishing buildings built before then, beware of the potential for health problems.
Lead can affect anybody, but children under the age of four and pregnant women are most at risk. Lead can affect children by causing learning and attention problems, hearing loss, slowed growth and bad behaviour.
In adults, low levels of exposure can cause joint and muscle pain, high blood pressure and infertility. Higher levels can cause memory loss, nerve problems and, at very high levels, fits. Lead can build up in the body and be stored in bones for up to 30 years.
Lead dust from old paint, ceiling cavities or wall cavities can be a major hazard.
- If disturbing or removing dust or paint that could contain lead, wear a respirator or dust mask and protective clothing.
- Seal the rooms you are working in with plastic.
- Do not use open-flame torches on lead paint as they create lead fumes. If you must use a heat gun, use it on the lower setting to keep the paint temperature below 370 degrees C.
- Avoid using dry-sanding techniques: keep the surface wet to minimise dust.
- Don't sweep or use a domestic vacuum cleaner to clean up; lead dust will pass right through it. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner. These can be hired.
- When you've finished, wipe all surfaces with a damp cloth and high-phosphate detergent. You will only need a small amount of detergent.
- Wash your face and hands before eating, drinking or smoking.
- Wash your work clothes separately from the family's clothes, and use a phosphate detergent (a small amount will do).
Seal the dust in heavy-duty plastic bags for appropriate disposal.
- Read the Australian Standard AS4361.2 Guide to Lead Paint Management: Part 2 Residential and Commercial Buildings 1998 (available from Standards Australia).
- More information on lead in home and work environments is available on the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts website.
Lead is also found in plumbing, flashing, solder, contaminated soil and PVC-coated
electrical wiring, and as dust in old carpets.
Contact WorkCover NSW for advice on checking for, managing or removing
Chemical storage, disposal and spills
- Store paints, stains and other chemicals in a lock-up that has an impervious floor and is bunded so that it will hold at least 110% of the contents of the largest container stored in the area.
- Put waste solvents, cleaners and paints in sealed containers for hazardous waste collection. Find out from your local council where and how to dispose of hazardous materials safely.
- Take care not to spill materials such as solvents, paints and other chemicals. Clean up all spills immediately to prevent contamination of the ground and stormwater.
General actions for dealing with spills
Prepare and practice your spill clean-up procedure. Staff should know what to do, where to find emergency equipment and how to use it. Available equipment should include mops, brooms, rags, material to prevent spills going into drains, and material to absorb spills. Keep this material in a clearly labelled and accessible location. Its important to:
- Stop the source of the spill immediately if it is safe to do so.
- Contain the spill and control its flow (Refer to the relevant MSDS). Stop the spill from entering any stormwater drains by blocking the drain inlets.
- Clean up the spill. It is important to clean up all spills quickly, even small ones, as they can easily flow into stormwater drains or be washed there by rain.
- Store all waste generated from spill clean up in a sealed vessel and in a bunded and covered area.
- Contact a waste contractor who is licensed to dispose of the absorbents used in the spill clean up.
Emergency response to spills
- Make all staff aware of emergency telephone numbers to call in the case of a spill.
- If a spill occurs that threatens or harms the environment, you must tell the EPA or the local council as soon as you can after you became aware of it.
- For large-scale, hazardous spills call the Fire Brigade immediately on 000.
- If you cannot contain any spill of hazardous materials (regardless of its size) contact the Fire Brigade immediately.
- For small-scale spills, follow the MSDS for the spilled substance.
You must not allow solvents, paints or other chemicals to soak into the ground. Contaminants can enter the groundwater and eventually reach rivers or our drinking water. They can also make the site unusable.
Page last updated: 21 September 2012