Home Environmental Health and Safety Management Chapter 4: Hazardous Substances and Hazards of Nature

Chapter 4: Hazardous Substances and Hazards of Nature

by editor

This topic broadly covers the specific Health, Safety and Environmental dangers from hazardous substances, dangerous goods, biological hazards, hazardous plants, dangerous insect or arachnid species and dangerous animal species.

1 Introduction:
The topic of Hazardous Substances (HS) and Dangerous Goods (DG) was covered in 2020, covering the legislative Health, Safety and Environment compliance and operational issues with respect to the hazardous substances and dangerous goods, such as detailed Risk Assessments, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), Safe Operating Procedures (SOP’s), Employee training and competency, and waste management to ensure that their operations do not place the local community or environment at risk of harm.

A significant issue is the complacency of many people using the hazardous and dangerous commercial products and ignoring the very important safety instructions for handling and storage. The safety data sheets for any product must be read and precautions adhered to.

There is also a general failure by the product manufacturers to clearly and prominently warn users of the hazards involved. One should not need magnifying glasses to read the fine print warnings. The warnings are often ignored by DIY gardeners and some “professionals”.

Professional landscapers and gardeners generally have a better understanding of
the dangers and keep abreast of the hazards of all the products they use and follow the risk assessment path.

Many of the dangers cannot be covered by product safety data sheets, for the fact they are naturally occurring in the environment. Each site worked on should be carefully investigated to identify and respect the hazards of nature.

2.Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods
2.1 Hazardous Substances

Hazardous substances, may be operationally defined as ”those that, following worker exposure, can have an adverse effect on health (Safe Work Australia, 2010b).”

Many chemicals used by landscaping and garden maintenance workers are hazardous substances and exposure to these substances without appropriate safety precautions and PPE may cause conditions ranging from minor skin irritation to serious injury or death, to the user and / or the public.

Common hazardous substances in the workplace include: acids, caustic substances, glues, heavy metals (including mercury, lead, and cadmium), pesticides, weedicides, fertilizers, petroleum products, solvents.

Some pesticides used in domestic situations may pose health hazards to pets and humans in contact with the residual chemicals. Their use should be avoided.
For example; Disulfoton, metaldehyde.

  • 2.1.1 Pesticides
  • Pesticides can be broken down to several main types, including:
  • Insecticides
  • Herbicides
  • Rodenticides
  • Bactericides.
  • Fungicides
  • Larvicides

Examples of synthetic chemical pesticides are: Acephate, Deet, Propoxur, Metaldehyde, Boric Acid, Diazinon, Dursban, DDT, Malathion, ecetera.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD, and even birth defects. Pesticides also have the potential to harm the nervous system, the reproductive system, and the endocrine system.

2.1.2 Weedicides
Weedicides are chemicals formulated to basically kill undesired plants.

Examples of commonly used weedicides are: Roundup / Glyphosate, 2-4D

Weedicides may cause cancer and various other health problems in humans. Also, these substances may reach the ground water and in turn enters the human system.

2.1.3 Fertilizers
Fertilizers are generally inorganic (nitrogen, potassium) or organic (animal manure, compost).

The use of fertilizers is relatively safe if appropriate PPE is used, however overuse can lead to groundwater contamination and other environmental problems.

Some fertilizers are considered hazardous materials, for example if they contain ammonium nitrate or sulphur, which makes them inherently dangerous.

High levels of nitrates and nitrites may cause some disease like haemoglobin disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes mellitus.

2.2 Dangerous Goods
Dangerous Goods are “substances, mixtures, or articles, because of their physical, chemical (physicochemical) or acute toxicity properties, present an immediate hazard to people, property or the environment (Safe Work Australia, 2010b).

They are substances that are corrosive, flammable, combustible, explosive, oxidising or water-reactive or have other hazardous properties. Dangerous goods can cause explosions or fires, serious injury, death, and large-scale damage.

There are nine classes of Dangerous Goods. Some examples of dangerous goods which may apply to landscape and gardening activities are:

  • Class 2: Gases
  • Class 3: Flammable Liquids
  • Class 5: Oxidising Substances and Organic Pesticides
  • Class 6: Toxic and Infectious Substances
  • Class 8: Corrosive Materials
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous Dangerous substances (Environmental hazard during transport, includes ammonium nitrate fertilizer, asbestos)

For details refer to Dangerous Goods Act 1985, and the Codes of Practice for the Storage and handling of Dangerous Goods (eg WorkSafe Victoria, Worksafe ACT).

  1. Biological hazards
    Biological hazards can cause serious health risks through contact with animals, animal matter or animal products, potting mixes, soils, or through direct transmission from bites, or contact with toxic fungi, etc. Some examples of biological hazards related to L&G activities are:
    • Mould and fungi – can cause a wide range of health problems, such as anaphylaxis, ringworm, tinea, “mushroom workers lung’, asthma.
    • Animal and bird droppings – exposure to bacteria and viruses.
    • Tetanus – a particularly dangerous biological hazard, potentially leading to death if not diagnosed and treated early. It is everywhere, in soil, dust and animal waste, or can be contracted from insect bites, animal bites, scratches, or a tiny crack in the skin. Ensure Tetanus vaccinations of workers are up to date to provide protection.
    • Bacteria and fungi –potting mixes and soils are known to carry harmful diseases such as the Legionnaires’ disease (a lung infection), contracted through inhaled dust. Airborne dust can be minimized by wetting the potting mix or soil before use.
  2. Hazardous plants
    Some plants that landscape workers and gardeners encounter are poisonous, can cause allergic reactions or asthma in some people, or can be hazardous in other ways. These plants can cause severe rashes and even life-threatening reactions, for example asthma or allergic reactions.

Training of employees should include recognition of hazardous plants and first aid treatment.

About 1000 species of plants in Australia are known to be toxic to animals and humans and many more cause skin and eye irritation, rashes or discomfort. About 10 per cent of plants in Australia even make cyanide.

  1. Dangerous insect / arachnid species
    Dangerous insect / arachnid species include stinging insects, bugs, spiders which can cause skin irritations, poisoning and disease.

Most insects in Australia are not harmful to humans; however some people are allergic to certain insect bites or venom.Common insects that bite or sting:

  • Honey Bees
  • European Wasps
  • Biting and non-biting flies
  • Mosquitoes
  • Head Lice
  • Ants

Other biting or stinging arthropods include:

  • Ticks and mites (Can cause Lyme disease or similar, and can be deadly)
  • Spiders (Sydney Funnel Web is deadliest in Australia, Red-back, white-tail, etc)
  • Scorpions
  • Centipedes

Further reading is freely available on the internet, and worth following up at places such as the Australian Museum.

6 Dangerous animal species
The following are a few that could be a danger to landscape and gardening workers:

  • Snakes (Eastern Brown Snake, Tiger Snake, Copperhead)
  • Spiders (Sydney Funnel Web is deadliest in Australia, Red-back, white-tail)
  • Wild boar (not common but can be dangerous if provoked)


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