Globally there is a growing awareness of an individuals rights to a safe workplace and many countries have introduced strong legislation protecting these rights.

A healthy and safe environment is vital for employees to work in. In turn employee health and safety is of benefit to the archival materials, as there is less likelihood of archival materials being damaged through fatigue, equipment failure, unsuitable conditions, and unnecessary accidents.

Hazard identification

A hazard means anything that may result in injury or harm to the health of a person. Some hazards are inherent to the workplace, other hazards may result from equipment failure, or misuse, chemical spills and structural failures.

Methods of identifying workplace hazards

Develop a hazard checklist list from most hazardous to least, chronic and acute. Consider:

  • frequency of injury (how often is the hazard likely to result in an injury or disease)
  • duration of exposure (how long is the employee likely to be exposed)
  • outcome (what are the consequences or potential severity of injury)

Examine the workplace, work practices and tasks and try to imagine circumstances that might lead to an accident or injury. Sources of information that can be used to assist in identifying hazards is information from the manufacturer. This may be in the form of specific warnings on operation, any incompatibilities with other equipment or environments and Material Safety Data Sheets. The later will be covered in more detail later. If you are still unsure as to what may constitute a risk or hazard seek advice from specialist practitioners and available organisations that deal with workplace safety.

After identifying potential risks in the workplace conduct a workplace survey by walking through the workplace and trying to find where the identified risks might occur. Consult with employees about the work place and work practices. At this point if a previously unconsidered hazard becomes apparent add it to your list!

If there are no records of accidents then you will need to establish methods of reporting and recording any accidents, injuries and incidents, including near misses where an accident might have happened, e.g. frayed power plugs or water on the floor. From these records it becomes possible to analyse unsafe incidents, accident and injury data and in conjunction with an analysis of work practices identify areas that need more attention. In many countries the increased insurance premiums, any compensation paid and the penalties for failing to provide a safe work environment will ultimately cost far more than attending to the hazards.


Risk assessment


The degree of risk involved in a task must be accurately analysed, taking in all the factors that may influence this risk. The factors range from the training provided to the design of the equipment and may vary from situation to situation.


The level of training or knowledge that staff possess that is required to work safely is highly significant. Inexperienced, untrained and unskilled workers will be at greater risk of injury. It is a fact that a high percentage of workers injured were new to the industry. New staff should be thoroughly trained, not only in the process of the task but in how to conduct the task safely. When developing training there may be additional requirements needed to be taken into account, such as languages; if the staff do not speak the national language as a first language, and terminology (jargon) must be fully explained.

The training provided should include physical hazards such as suitable and unsuitable clothing for the work place (loose sleeves, long loose clothes may catch on machinery), the correct use of any safety equipment and recommended techniques for the operation of equipment. The later should include training in posture for operation. Other training should instruct in work practices such as maximum duration between rest periods, any routines that need to be followed and especially what to do in disaster or emergency situations. After training is performed staff should be monitored to ensure that the training was not only provided but has been effective and that staff are conforming to the safe practices.


In assessing the risks that a task may present the following guidelines may be useful:

  • Observe how work is performed, watch the employees movements. The worker should not have to make any sudden, jerky or hard to control movements, or do anything which causes them discomfort or pain. The workplace should be designed so the task can be performed without the employee working in an awkward position.
  • Observe the working posture and position people adopt in carrying out the task. Ensure that, where possible, work activities are varied. This will prevent the worker having to hold the same posture or position for a long period. Design work place arrangements so that workers are not required to bend over or twist around frequently to perform their job.
  • Observe the duration, frequency, and forces involved in manual handling tasks. The risk of injury increases when manual handling tasks are done with higher frequency, higher forces, and over longer periods. It is worth noting that sometimes a large amount of force produces little or no movement.
  • Observe where the load is and how far it has to be moved. There is an increased risk whenever the load is below mid thigh height or above shoulder level. There is also an increased risk if a load has to be placed very accurately or carried over a long distance.


Consider the design and age of the equipment. Old equipment, as is often used in Archives, will have been designed in an era when less emphasis was placed on worker safety.

Unshielded drive belts and gears were common practice, the rational of the time being that this allowed faster maintenance. However this greatly increases the risk of a worker becoming caught up and injured.

The same applies to electrical wiring, older equipment often had unshielded cabling which was seen as a cost saving in manufacture. Even if the wiring is shielded the types of material used may no longer meet safety codes or may have deteriorated over the years.

Often over the years modifications may have been carried out to adapt the equipment to suit one purpose or another. Any modifications should be checked to ensure that the equipment still conforms to safety codes. This should happen routinely as the codes are frequently updated.

And equipment should be checked for noise hazards. Typical daily noise doses are applied to specific industries. People employed in heavy industry will readily recognise the need for protection to preserve their hearing. However people working in seemingly non-industrial area may not recognise the presence of a hearing risk in their environment. For example, when checking the noise level in the SSA Printing and Processing Laboratory the results showed that the laboratory had the same noise level as a medium industrial environment and that hearing protection was required to perform some tasks. The issue of noise will be covered in more detail later.


Observe the work environment. Layout of workspaces, in particular obstructions that do not permit easy passage, can cause physical injury in terms of impact damage and less obvious strains.

Ensure that staff are not cramped and they have sufficient room to perform the tasks required of them. To overcome cramped conditions workers will often adopt a posture that increases the static load on their limbs and this can lead to injury.
Floor surfaces should be treated so that under all normal circumstances the surface is not slippery. Areas that are frequently wet should be made of non-slip materials or have an effective non-slip surface treatment applied.

All the materials used in constructing the work area should also prevent the build up of static electricity. A static discharge may not seem much of an injury but it may induce an accident with another piece of equipment and will certainly distract the worker from the task at hand.

Specific standards are published for the amount of light required on work surfaces. The amount of light required will vary depending on the type of work and tasks carried out.


Workplace ventilation is extremely important in creating a safe working environment. Standards exist for the number of complete air changes that are required per hour in the work space. The number of changes per hour varies depending on the type of work area. Laboratories are higher than office/clerical areas.

Some tasks require greatly increased ventilation, for example; examining decomposing films exposes the worker to relatively high concentrations of chemicals that are known to create health concerns. Under these conditions special equipment to extract the chemicals should be provided. This equipment may be anything from a fan pointed out the window and drawing air across the work area (not recommended!) to a purpose built fume cupboard.

A difficulty often arises in that Archives are often housed in 'available’ accommodation where the ventilation may be inadequate. This can even be a problem where fume extraction is used as the ventilation system may not be able to provide sufficient air to the room to allow the fume extraction to work effectively. Although potentially suitable equipment may have been installed, the system as a whole may not meet standards. In ventilation engineering there seems to be a fine balance between a system working to specifications and failing.


The length of time a worker is exposed to a hazard greatly influences the degree of risk involved. Exposure can be the frequency of a task such as winding a film as well as the concentration of a chemical in the work environment.

Exposure can be expressed as the product of two factors, time and intensity. An injury can be the result of a cumulative low level of exposure over a long period of time or a high level of exposure over a short period of time. Examples of these might be an incorrect posture for several months causing a back injury or lifting a heavy object causing a sprain.

The use of and exposure to chemicals can be a highly emotive issue and assessment of the risks presented will be discussed later in this module. Individual Legislation in some countries or states may incorporate interactive factors of an employees physical condition. In job design factors such as; fitness, health, strength, size, training or aptitude, personality, age and gender of staff may be needed to be taken into account. Bias or discrimination of staff based on these factors may render the employer liable to litigation.


Risk control

After the hazards have been identified risks can be significantly decreased by good job design. In redesigning a job to remove or minimise the risk, evaluate the tasks against the following criteria:

  • Elimination – is the task or chemical absolutely necessary? Removing the hazard or hazardous work practice from the workplace is the most effective control measure.
  • Substitution – replace a hazard or hazardous work practice with a less hazardous one.
  • Isolation – separating the hazard or hazardous work practice from people involved in the work or people in the general work areas from the hazard. This can be done by installing screens, marking off hazardous areas or installing purpose built facilities and equipment.
  • Engineering control – if the hazard cannot be eliminated, substituted or isolated, an engineering control is the next preferred measure. This may include modifications to equipment such as providing guarding to machinery or improving ventilation.
  • Administrative control – includes introducing work practices that reduce the risk. This may be achieved by limiting the amount of time a person is exposed on a daily basis or a rotating roster that splits the task between several people.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – is the final method that should be considered and only when other control measures are not fully effective. Problems with using PPE include, workers are unwilling to wear the equipment because it is uncomfortable or impairs their ability to carry out the task and there may be high ongoing costs for consumable items.

Usually it will require more than one method to control the risk. As an example, the former film cleaning room in the printing and processing laboratory of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia had four cleaning machines in a fairly small room. The machines all used chlorinated solvents which present a significant risk to health and safety. The rooms ventilation system was capable of maintaining the level of solvent in the air close to tolerance, but there were occasions when the level would rise above tolerance. To prevent staff being exposed to occasionally unsafe levels of solvent administrative controls were also applied:

  • Staff only work in the area for short shifts
  • After the machines are loaded with films for cleaning, staff leave the actual room and monitor the machines through a window
  • When loading and unloading films from the machines PPE is worn, but this is only for a short time.

Job design

Good job design should consider a range of factors such as the physical capability and psychological needs of an employee. Good job design should take into account a number of factors, including skill variety, task significance, autonomy and feedback. This should ensure a variety of tasks for individual workers. Job enrichment and job enlargement are a means of job design.

Archives generally have a wide range of tasks that need to be performed. This can mean that an archive is in a better position to use job design to reduce risks to staff than many other industries might be.

Task design

By incorporating a variety of specified tasks a job can provide a substantial variation in movement and posture. Tasks which require sustained fixed postures, particularly where exertion is required or the use of joints towards extremes of their range of movement or highly repetitive movements for long periods, should be limited as both can cause accumulated muscle fatigue. Such periods should be interspersed with suitable movements to reduce the effects of fatigue.

Task variation and work pauses

Wherever possible, jobs should be designed so they include a mixture of repetitive and non-repetitive work in which recovery from the effects of repetitive work is possible. This also applies to tasks that involve exposure to chemicals and other physical hazards such as extended periods under temperature extremes (e.g. cold rooms). Jobs should be designed with sufficient flexibility in task demands for employees to move around and reduce the effects of fatigue by variations in task demands.

Pauses should preferably be taken away from the immediate work area and provide staff with the opportunity to change posture and rest the eyes. Exercises and alternative work should be encouraged during these periods. So staff can rest their eyes and adjust to normal fields of vision, some form of change in focus such as a window should be available. If this is not possible then some other means such as posters or pictures should be considered. It is a good practice to have eye testing for workers at the commencement of their duties, at two yearly intervals, and whenever an employee shows signs of persistent visual fatigue.


Film conservation hazards


There are several hazards that arise in the treatments used for the conservation of archival motion picture film. Chemical and biological hazards need to be recognised and controlled so that the operations can be carried out with minimal risk to staff. The lynch pin of safety around archival films is careful attention to hygiene.

Biological hazards

Gelatin is an excellent food source for a variety of life forms. Apart from any bacteria that may be found on the film itself there are many vermin that use the film as a food source that may also spread disease unless good hygiene is observed while handling film collections.

Moulds are the primary hazard that needs to be considered. Mould spores are present in large numbers in most environments. Whether there are appreciably more spores present around film is debatable, however due to this unknown mouldy films should be treated with care.

The precise effects that moulds found on film may have on people is relatively unknown. However it is generally assumed that respiratory problems would be the most likely, with eye infections and skin disorders also a possibility.

Mouldy films should be handled in a fume cupboard or other approved extraction system. Disposable examination gloves should be worn and after use the gloves turned inside out and disposed of. Washing hands after handling any archival film, regardless of any obvious signs of infestation, is highly recommended.

Chemical hazards

Exposure to chemicals when treating archival films come from two sources:

  • Chemicals used in the treatment, these are of a known purity and quantity and have health and safety data available
  • Decomposition by products, these are an unknown in terms of purity and quantity and have scant information available.

There are five major classes of chemical hazard – toxics, flammables, reactives, corrosives and pollutants.


Toxic chemicals affect the body by destroying cells and tissues, changing enzyme functions and interfering with the operation of the bodies systems such as the nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, major organs, genetic material or immune system.
The chemical can enter the body by a number of routes.

  • Inhalation – chemicals are breathed in and enter the body via absorption along the airways and lungs. This presents the greatest risk to worker safety.
  • Skin absorption – generally the skin is well protected by an oily film that helps keep the skin supple and protects the skin from water and water soluble (hydrophilic) chemicals. Some chemicals, particularly those that can dissolve or remove the protective layer (called defatting) cause irritation or permit other chemicals to be more readily absorbed.
  • Ingestion this is an obvious route of entry but the effects of the chemical depend on the absorption of the chemical by the gastro intestinal tract and internal transport through the bloodstream.


Most chemicals will burn if sufficient heat is applied. Many chemicals will combust at very low temperatures and will create a significant fire hazard under normal temperature conditions.

The assessment of the flammability of a chemical is determined by its flash point(fp). The flash point is the minimum temperature at which there will be sufficient vapour from the chemicals surface to ignite when an ignition source is present.

Description Flash Point (fp)
Flammable between 23-61°C
Highly Flammable between 0-22°C
Extremely Flammable less than 0°C

Some chemicals are not only flammable but also very difficult to suppress once alight. Cellulose nitrate film is one such chemical. The structure of the film contains chemicals that will support combustion without air. Smothering or water sprays are generally insufficient to extinguish nitrate film once it is alight, nitrate film has even been recorded as continuing to burn after it has been placed under water!


Some chemicals will combine readily with other chemicals, water or even air, to create a dangerous situation. This might cause a fire, toxic gases or even an explosion depending on the quantity and reactivity of the chemicals involved.

Consideration of a chemicals reactivity should be given not only for its use but also for storage and transport. Even carrying incompatible chemicals from a store to where they are to be used creates a risk that needs to be properly managed.


Corrosive chemicals are acids and alkalis (or bases) which can cause burns on contact with the skin. Again this is a consideration for use, storage and transporting.


These create an environmental hazard. The hazard may be one of toxicity, a high oxygen demand in sewerage and waterways, ozone depletion, soil poisoning or another long term problem.

Decomposition and off-gassed products

In a survey of a black and white film vault, the Image Permanence Institute identified the following chemicals in detectable quantities:

1-butanol hexane toluene
carbon disulfide methylene chloride xylene
cyclohexane pentane  
cyclopentane iso-pentane  
1,2-dichloropropane perchloroethylene  
Freon TF trichlorofluoromethane  

Table 9.1 Decomposition and off-gassed products


Many of these would be residual casting solvents, cleaning solvents and decomposition products from plasticisers.

In dealing with decomposing films the main decomposition products of concern are acids and plasticisers, including some of the plasticisers decomposition by-products:

Acetic Acid Nitric Acid Methylene chloride
Butyric acid Phosphoric Acid Triphenyl phosphate
Propionic Acid Diphenyl phosphate Phenol

Table 9.2 Decomposition by-products


Chemicals used in conservation treatments

The main chemicals used in treatments described in this resource are solvents and the salts used to prepare aqueous solutions. Listed below are the commonly used chemicals:

Solvents Salts
absolute ethanol (99.5%) sodium metabisulfite
3M HFE’s, 7100 & 71-DA sodium sulfite
d-limonene sodium tripolyphosphate

Table 9.3 Chemicals used in film conservation


Identifying chemical hazards

Information regarding the hazards posed by chemicals is obtained from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). These sheets are a legal document and must contain certain information, including:

  • Product name
  • Other names
  • UN Number, Dangerous Goods Class and Subsidiary Risk
  • Hazchem Code
  • Poisons Schedule
  • Use
  • Physical description and properties
  • Health information
  • First Aid
  • Advice to doctors
  • Precautions for use
  • Exposure standards and controls, including protective equipment
  • Safe handling information, including spill procedures and disposal

Apart from the obvious biological and chemical hazards working with old film can present some physical hazards including minor (although possibly deep) cuts and abrasions from the edges of the film and scalpels, winding injuries, lifting injuries and eye strain.

Close attention to existing OH&S Policies is important, but beyond this extra care needs to be taken in laboratory cleanliness and personal hygiene.


Good work practices

Disaster plan

There should be plans in place to deal with any emergency. The nature of the emergency can vary from fire and chemical spills, and all the obvious hazards that these present, to power and water failures that can lead to unsafe working conditions.

Training and providing relevant information

Awareness of the problems and a positive approach to prevention is the keystone to good OH&S practices. Many accidents and injuries can be avoided by providing staff with appropriate training. Often this training has to be designed with an archives’ unique circumstances in mind. Up to date information regarding safe work practices, equipment safety and chemical information should be readily available in the workplace. Much of this information is available as posters and charts. The benefits of this can be seen in staff morale, productivity and the quality of work. Other benefits can be seen in terms of reduced insurance premiums, compensation and rehabilitation claims.

Work and storage areas

With the safety of archival material in mind, work and storage areas should be designed, constructed, and equipped to ensure that there is minimum risk to archive material or staff.

Work and storage areas must be kept free of food and drink, harmful contaminants, pollutants or vermin and harmful radiation.

Exits, passageways, stairs and equipment access areas should be kept clear of obstructions; including stored materials or materials and equipment in use. Obstructions can be a potential hazard.

Near miss and hazardous incidents and accident investigation

Near misses and hazardous incidents are those in which no one gets hurt and where no material, or equipment is damaged, but have the potential to cause damage or harm. Steps should be taken to eliminate causes as soon as possible, and while rectifying the initial problem ensure that is does not create a danger to anyone else. Regular safety inspections of a workplace can help to ensure that wherever possible accidents are prevented from occurring. It is very useful to develop a safety check list that is appropriate to the work place.

Supervisors should be trained to understand and recognise the occupational health and safety risks and needs in the area they are responsible for. This will enable them to fulfil their duty in regard to occupational health and safety.

Report of notifiable accidents, incidents and dangerous occurrences

  • Notifiable accidents – are work related accidents which result in serious injury
  • An incident – is any non-work related fatality which occurs on work premises
  • Dangerous occurrences – are occurrences which may not necessarily result in injury but which endanger the health and safety of an employee at a workplace, and arise from operations which are carried out in the workplace.

Records of reports and witness statements of notifiable accidents, incidents and dangerous occurrences will need to be preserved in the event of future claims or litigation. These are also valuable in identifying hazards and improvements that may still be needed to prevent further accidents.

First aid

First aid officers are responsible for taking positive action to prevent further injury to staff, to render first aid treatment in accordance with their approved training, and to keep a record of treatment provided. A first aid officer engaged in attending to a patient should remain with the patient until no further treatment or assistance is required or until the patient is handed over to ambulance or to other medical personnel.

First aid officers are also responsible for ensuring that the first aid box in their workplace is kept fully stocked and accessible, and for ensuring that the rest room or first aid room is kept in good condition.



  • National Code of Practice for the Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets [NOHSC: 2011(1994)]: Worksafe Australia