Working Safely with Arsenic - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

This guideline outlines the hazards and safety considerations for the use of arsenic compounds.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

SDS - Safety Data Sheets

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

This guideline applies to all workers and who carry out laboratory work with arsenic and arsenic containing compounds at The University of Queensland.

4. Guidelines Statement

All workers and students at The University of Queensland have a duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure that the risk of exposure to any hazardous chemical is eliminated or minimised as far as possible. This includes prevention of contamination of the work environment with hazardous chemicals. This guideline should be read in conjunction with other applicable UQ PPL documents covering chemical management and chemical waste disposal.

5. Risk Management

5.1 Risk assessment and operating procedures

Arsenic is a toxic material and a known human carcinogen. It is ubiquitous in the environment in low concentrations, but when handled in concentrated form presents a significant health hazard. Precautions must be taken to minimise exposure and eliminate the risk of poisoning. Persons working with arsenic and its compounds must complete a risk assessment prior to ordering the substance to identify and attenuate or eliminate the associated hazards.

The risk assessment must be checked and approved by the research group's supervisor to ensure all identified and appropriate controls to avoid or minimise exposure have been implemented. If the compound is not able to be eliminated or substituted, then engineering controls, e.g. control of airborne arsenic compounds with local exhaust ventilation (fume cupboards), along with training, supervision and appropriate PPE must be used. It may also be appropriate to include an administrative process by which other workers in the area are formally advised when work with arsenic is planned to take place so that they can avoid the area.

Schedule 14 of the Qld WHS Regulation 2011 specifies that arsenic is a substance that may require health monitoring where there is a significant risk of exposure. In the laboratory environment where small quantities of arsenic compounds are used, high order controls are effectively utilised, and there are no spill or release events, health monitoring should rarely be required. If the risk assessment indicates otherwise, and that there is likely to be a reasonable risk of exposure to these compounds after all controls are implemented, do not commence work until you have contacted a UQ OHS Occupational Hygiene Advisor for further advice. Where monitoring is required it will be arranged through the UQ OHS Occupational Health Nurse. Air quality monitoring of the workplace may also be undertaken periodically to confirm the effectiveness of control measures against aerosol or dust release.

5.1.1 Risk controls for the main routes of exposure

Skin exposure

  • Work in dedicated and functionally certified fume hood whenever possible and wear appropriate PPE (lab coat, apron, gloves, face shield, safety glasses etc).
  • Regular hand washing and showers at shift completion ensure that dust and solutions are removed from the skin surface before leaving the work area.
  • Launder all clothing which has been exposed to these substances separately and it is recommended workers change to clean clothes between each work session.
  • Do not wear earphones or earbuds while handling these compounds.
  • Ensure hair is tied back while handling these compounds.
  • Check the integrity of all containers regularly and ensure containers are sealed and stored appropriately after use.


  • Work in a dedicated and functionally certified fume hood whenever possible.
  • Where work with arsenic is carried out outside a fume hood, wear a respirator appropriate to the form of arsenic contaminate being generated, e.g. dust, fume or gas.
  • Work in a well ventilated area.
  • Avoid creating aerosols and gases when using arsenic and its compounds.


  • Keep work areas and food preparation areas physically separated to prevent contamination of food and utensils/facilities with these compounds.
  • Ensure hands are washed regularly and especially before leaving the work area.
  • Ensure gloves compatible with the substance being used are worn. PPE should be removed before leaving the work area and hands washed.
  • Do not eat or drink while handling these compounds.
  • Do not store these compounds in food containers or facilities used for food preparation.

5.2 Health surveillance

5.2.1 Exposure standards

Worker exposure to arsenic and arsenic containing compounds should be kept as low as reasonably practicable. Every attempt should be made to keep exposures well below the workplace exposure standards given in the Safe Work Australia Hazardous Substance Information System.

5.2.2 Health monitoring overview

Schedule 14 of the Queensland WHS Regulation stipulates that health monitoring is required where there is a significant risk of exposure during use. This process will be co-ordinated by the UQ Occupational Health Nurse Advisor. For arsenic exposure, the specific health monitoring procedures used will be determined by a health professional such as an occupational physician but may include the following:

  • Physical examination with emphasis on the peripheral nervous system and skin.
  • Inorganic arsenic measurement in urine samples.

If total urinary arsenic is measured, workers should be advised to abstain from seafood (including fish sauce, shrimp paste, fish and shellfish) and red wine for three days and seaweed for at least four days prior to urine collection, as these foods interfere with test results (subject to specific occupational physician advice).

The following records may be kept subject to the Privacy Act and UQ policies and procedures for personal records etc:

  • Demographic, medical and occupational history.
  • Records of personal exposure.

5.2.3 Health monitoring frequency and duration

Health monitoring frequency and duration should be determined by an occupational physician or appropriately qualified medical practitioner but may include the following:

  • At baseline (i.e. before handling arsenic);
  • Post exposure if any recent excessive exposure has occurred (e.g. spills);
  • Urine testing every three months unless levels are consistently low, then reduced frequency on the advice of a medical practitioner;
  • At termination of work involving arsenic.

For further details on this process please refer to OHS Health Surveillance for Schedule 14 Hazardous Substances-Guideline

5.3 Training and competency

In addition to mandatory online general OHS and fire safety training, UQ workers and students handling arsenic are required to complete additional online training modules for Laboratory and Chemical Safety. These modules can be completed by going to the UQ OHS home page and selecting "OHS Training modules" and undergoing the online training and assessment programs.

In addition to these online modules, workers dealing with arsenic compounds must be given appropriate safety training by their supervisors in the safe use of any plant/equipment involved in the process, safe storage procedures and in the safe disposal and cleanup of spills or releases of these compounds. Supervisors should verify and document worker competency before allowing work with these compounds to proceed in their areas. The local site safety induction conducted by local WHSCs are an important complement to this process and local WHSCs should be notified if any work with arsenic compounds is planned for the local area. All of these training elements should also be documented in the risk assessment as administrative controls.

Disposal of arsenic and its compounds must be carried out in accordance with UQ Environmental management system requirements and legislative requirements relating to safety and environmental considerations. Information on safe and environmentally sustainable disposal of chemicals can be found in the UQ Environmental Management System.

UQ Staff Development also runs regular courses on the safe storage, use, disposal and spill clean- up of hazardous chemicals – these courses are recommended as a useful practical supplement to the online modules.

6. Emergency Procedures

6.1 Spill/contamination

Arsenic and its compounds are also very toxic to the environment and may cause long term effects to the aquatic environment and therefore should not be released into the water supply. Note that the limit of arsenic in drinking is 7 ug/L, while most rivers and streams will contain 1 to 2 ug/L

If there has been a spill directly into a sewer or waterway, immediately contact Security on 53333. Request also that UQ OHS Division be contacted and notified immediately of the spill.

If the spill is contained within a laboratory or workshop, ensure all personnel leave the area immediately and that the area is secured against accidental entry. Contact Security on 53333 immediately. Request also that UQ OHS Division be contacted and notified immediately of the spill.

Taking care to prevent contamination or danger to yourself, remove any affected person to a safe well-ventilated location and remove any contaminated PPE/clothing (bag up and label).

Begin to implement the spill control plan - determine the spills category (see risk assessment and SDS) and with supervision by WHSC, supervisor or Occupational Hygiene Advisor follow the appropriate cleanup procedure if it is safe to do so i.e. when aerosols, dusts, fumes have settled and appropriate PPE and spill neutralisation kits are available for trained personnel.

Seek first aid as necessary.

All waste should be collected in dedicated Chemstore containers and returned to the Chemstore through the Chemwaste system under "Chemical Waste Request".

Workers in proximity to the spill or others involved in the cleanup may be exposed to the chemical and should seek advice about surveillance and testing from the UQ Occupational Health Nurse Advisor. The incident must be recorded in the UQ online incident reporting database. The incident must be reviewed and the risk assessment/SOP updated and modified with any changes identified during subsequent investigation that will attenuate the risk of a repeat incident.

6.1.1 Symptoms of exposure

In addition to arsenic specific symptoms, other compounds mixed with the arsenic will cause other symptoms which may make diagnosis difficult. The principle route of exposure of arsenic is ingestion and this occurs with poor hand cleaning hygiene in the lab. Arsenic is a ubiquitous and can be present in high levels in some drinking water and foods, which could contribute to the following symptoms:

List of symptoms typical of arsenic poisoning

  • Skin and mucous membranes – dermatitis, skin ulcers, hyperpigmentation, keratoses, skin cancer
  • Respiratory tract – irritation of nose, throat and lungs, perforation of nasal septum, lung cancer
  • Gastrointestinal – irritation and nausea.

Short-Term (Acute) Arsenic Poisoning

Exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, loss of appetite, cough, chest pain, giddiness, headache and breathing difficulty. Exposure to Arsine gas can cause sudden death. Acute poisoning by arsenic compounds other than arsine gas rarely occurs in industry.

Long-Term (Chronic) Effects

Exposure to inorganic arsenic over time can cause weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin and eye irritation, hyperpigmentation, thickening of the palms and soles (hyperkeratosis), contact dermatitis, skin sensitisation, warts, ulceration and perforation of the nasal septum, and numbness and weakness in the legs and feet. Higher incidents of some types of skin, bladder and lung cancers can also result from chronic arsenic exposure.

6.1.2 First aid

In the event of an emergency, remove the casualty from further exposure if safe to do so, call your First Aid Officer, Security on 53333 and your emergency services coordinator (P&F Emergency Procedure Card)

Eye Exposure

Flush immediately with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting the upper and lower lids occasionally. *Contact lenses should not be worn when working with this chemical*.

Skin Exposure

Remove the victim to the nearest safety shower, turn on the shower and remove contaminated clothing. Run the shower over the contaminated parts of the affected person for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Report all incidents and near misses using the UQSafe incident reporting database

7. Obligations

7.1 Supervisors

  • To provide supervision and training in the safe use of these materials.
  • To provide assistance with risk assessments to ensure the assessment is comprehensive and accurate.
  • To review and approve the risk assessment, and to ensure all controls outlined in the assessment are implemented.
  • To ensure that all appropriate safety systems and equipment are in place, fully operational and used correctly.
  • To ensure that all incidents involving these materials are investigated as soon as possible and that corrective actions (including review and modification of risk assessments) are implemented to prevent recurrences.
  • See PPL 2.10.04 Staff Responsibilities for Occupational Health and Safety for other general health and safety obligations.

7.2 Workers and students

  • To ensure that risks are eliminated or minimized as far as reasonably practicable.
  • To provide assistance with the risk assessment process, help ensure the assessment is comprehensive and accurate.
  • To follow applicable safe operating procedures and to use the controls outlined in the risk assessment.
  • To wear all PPE required and ensure it is maintained in good condition.
  • To immediately stop work and notify supervisor if there are any changes to procedures or deficiencies in the work process or risk assessment.
  • See PPL 2.10.04 Staff Responsibilities for Occupational Health and Safety for other general health and safety obligations.

8. Contacts for Resources for Further Information

Occupational Hygiene Advisors:

Occupational Health Nurse Advisor:

University of Queensland Chemicals Store:
e-mail at

Environmental Health Criteria 224: Arsenic and Arsenic Compounds IPCS Inchem

Chemwatch Database: can print summary SDS, first aid summary, advice to doctor summary and other relevant information on specific arsenic compounds.

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael