What’s at Stake?
Chemicals are present everywhere. We encounter them every day, often without even knowing it. But, not knowing what chemicals are present at work and how to manage them safely, puts lives at stake.
What’s the Danger?
Chemicals come in many forms. Liquids, dust, fumes, gases, and vapors can cause death, cancers, respiratory, organ damage, and birth defects, if misused. Some may start fires, explode and damage the environment. Because of their dangerous nature, Canadian law requires suppliers and workplaces to label and attach information about all hazardous products. Labels can be a mark, sign, stamp, sticker, seal, ticket, tag, or wrapper but must serve as a warning to users. It carries the product name, related hazards, safety measures and more. The absence or damage of labels can lead to injury, illness, and catastrophic events like:
- If there are no product identifiers like brand, chemical, common, generic and trade names of the product.
- In the event of a chemical accident, further damage can be experienced if there is no supplier identifier such as name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer or importer.
- The absence of a signal word such as “danger” that will alert and show the severity of a potential hazard.
- The absence of hazard statement(s) describing the hazardous nature of a product.
- No precautionary statement(s) that describe measures to prevent or minimize the effects of a hazard.
- No supplemental label information on details about potential hazards and precautions not included in the label.
- Not understanding pictogram(s) which are images inside a red square. These give users an idea of the type of hazard in a product. Nine pictograms under WHMIS:
- “Flame” warns about liquids, gases, mixtures, solids or sprays that can start a fire or explosion.
- “Flame over a circle” is for oxidizing gases, liquids and solids that combine with oxygen to increase fires and explosions.
- The “gas cylinder” shows gases under pressure such as compressed gas, liquefied gas, refrigerated liquefied gas, and dissolved gas, all of which can cause an explosion, severe cold, burns and injuries.
- The image of a “corroding hand and metal” represents corrosive products that damage metals and irritates the eyes and skin.
- “Exploding bomb” shows substances and mixtures that react alone to cause fires and explosions.
- The “skull and crossbones” is for toxic products that must never be inhaled or allowed to touch the skin and mouth.
- The image of a “human head and shoulders” represents chemicals that can easily cause death, cancer or damage the respiratory/reproductive systems, skin and body organs.
- The “exclamation (!)” is used to show high toxic risk, skin/eye allergies and organ damage.
- “3 rings in a circle” is for biohazardous infectious materials.
The absence of any of the above label information, required in English and French, can result in accidents.
Note: The GHS system also defines an environmental hazards group. This group and its classes was not adopted in WHMIS 2015. But, you may see the environmental classes listed on labels and Safety Data Sheets.
How to Protect Yourself
- Always check for a label before using any product.
- Follow all the instructions on the label and SDS.
- Learn to identify pictograms.
- Attend all training provided.
- Use all recommended PPE.
- Ask questions when in doubt.
- Avoid unlabeled products and do not use unreadable labels. Report these to your supervisor so a new label can be created and used.
Chemicals are dangerous, read labels and pictograms for safe handling, use, and storage.