Originally Published February 19, 2019
To overcome the obstacles to good chemical risk management we need to consider some different ideas on how we look at the information in WHMIS.
Look at Hazards Not Products
While there are millions of chemical products available in the market, there are only seventy-nine different hazards in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) which WHMIS is based on. Our work has shown that the typical organization with 140 products will have 40 of those hazards and only 16 of these will have a signal word danger. It is much easier to look at 16 high risk hazards than 140 products.
Focus on Employee Health
Most of us have a belief that greatest risk from using chemicals is fire. Yet when we look at the actual hazards we found that organizations have over 3 times as many health hazards as fire hazards. So don’t ignore your fire hazards, but your people need you to focus on the hazards to their health.
Think of User Needs
WHMIS was developed with a wide range of users in mind – firefighters, nurses, occupational hygienists, managers, and workers. A system developed for all these people is too big for the average worker to handle.
Re-think what you provide to workers. In my experience they need the answers to three simple questions:
What are the hazards?
How do I protect myself?
What do I do in an emergency?
For a typical chemical you can provide this information very briefly in a 1-page summary. That is much more manageable then a fifteen-page safety data sheet.
A supplier on a safety data sheet can get away with generic statements such as “wear appropriate gloves”. But as the employer you need to be crystal clear. Can a worker follow the instructions at 2 am Saturday morning when there is no one around to provide any clarity? It is your responsibility to translate the generic statement to something actionable “wear black nitrile gloves”.
WHMIS has changed with the new 2015 version. It is much easier to understand. But if we don’t change how we use WHMIS, we won’t see any improvement in chemical safety nor any reduction in cases of occupational disease.
This is the fourth of six blogs that talk about Chemical Risk Management and how any organization can make dramatic improvements in chemical safety with the same or less effort than you are spending today complying with WHMIS. These blogs will cover the following topics:
4. Simplify Chemical Risk Management
If you have any questions on this article or the series, please contact us. We'd be happy to discuss your chemical safety challenges.