Chemicals in the workplace can cause a variety of problems if they are handled incorrectly, from chemical burns, allergic reactions, inhalation and more. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) recorded “16,207 chemical-related lost-time injuries (LTIs) from exposure to caustic, noxious or allergenic substances, from the years 2005-2014”. A lost-time injury is when an incident which occurs in the workplace, causes an employee to take time off due to the injury or injuries sustained from the incident.
The Ministry of Labour conducted a workplace blitz in 2016 with their focus on chemical hazards in the workplace. The blitz’s goals were to:
- raise awareness of chemical handling hazards in workplaces
- increase workplace compliance with the safe handling and use of chemicals
- prevent worker injuries, illness, and death
The results from the blitz were concerning. The MOL visited 638 workplaces and issued 2,887 work orders, and 47 stop-work orders. These numbers are proof that chemical safety in the workplace is not being taken as seriously as it should be; that is an average of 4.53 orders per workplace! There are policies and procedures put in place to ensure you or your employer are providing staff with the safest work environment possible, though these procedures can be plentiful and overwhelming. If you are worried you may not be compliant in your workplace start by taking a look at the following areas the Ministry focused on during their blitz.
- Labelling: Inspectors checked that controlled/hazardous products that were “decanted” (moved into smaller containers from a bulk supply) had appropriate workplace labels
- Engineering controls: Inspectors verified that engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation, were in place, operating and maintained to limit worker exposure to airborne contaminants, when needed.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Inspectors checked that employers were providing appropriate PPE and that workers were wearing and using the PPE. Inspectors also checked that required eyewash fountains and deluge showers were provided and maintained
- Housekeeping: Inspectors verified that employers considered chemical compatibility when storing chemicals. The inspectors checked that proper storage for flammable liquids was provided, good housekeeping practices were in place and emergency spill cleanup procedures were implemented when needed.
- Material handling: Inspectors checked that employers had appropriate precautions and safeguards in place for the movement of chemicals in the workplace.
- Internal Responsibility System (IRS): Inspectors verified that employers, supervisors and workers were aware of their OHSA roles and responsibilities. They also verified that required Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSCs) or health and safety representatives (HSRs) were in place, where appropriate, and were functioning properly
- Worker training: Inspectors checked that employers were providing information and instruction to workers to perform material handling tasks safely. This included providing mandatory basic awareness occupational health and safety training as well as training on the use and fit of PPE, safe work practices and spill cleanup.
- Workplace supervision: Inspectors checked that supervisors had completed the mandatory occupational health and safety awareness training
If you feel overwhelmed there are thankfully businesses out there that can help. Raven Management Group Inc can provide safety audits, chemical inventories, safety training and SDS management, so compliance comes easily, and employees stay safe!