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Case Study: Universities and Chemicals Management

Written by: Lisa Hallsworth

Published on: 19 November 2018

Universities use tens of thousands of chemicals on their campuses. Some are used for cleaning and maintenance but many more are used and produced in the research laboratories that universities are so well known for. This important work and education brings with it many challenges when it comes to chemicals. The largest challenge is that students come from varying backgrounds. They can have very little education or understanding about safe chemical handling and can have differing levels of risk tolerance.  In addition, chemical exposure may be incidental to the subject being studied in the laboratory and students may not think to question their risk of exposure. Such is the case with anatomy laboratories. While the study of the human body is the main focus, students will encounter hazardous chemicals, which are inherent to properly preserve cadavers.

In most workplaces, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that employees understand how to work safely with chemicals. Universities present an interesting challenge since students are technically not “workers”. While the chain of command within universities is vague, it typically falls to the university professors and laboratory staff to ensure that students are made aware of the hazards they may be exposed to in the lab, including the chemicals which may be incidental to their study. In addition, professors and staff must ensure students clearly understand how to protect themselves from these hazards and what to do when something goes wrong. Many institutions leave it up to the students to research the chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) to figure out how to safely work with the chemicals. However, this approach can leave some students vulnerable to accidental exposure. For example, embalming fluids are typically a mixture of many other chemicals. As a result, the SDS may not be readily available for students to find. In addition, the SDS often does not have clear guidance for personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead it may state something like “Wear appropriate gloves”. Students are often ill equipped to determine what is “appropriate”.

Safety works best with clear instructions that are accessible to all and The Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University knows this. To avoid confusion about safe chemical handling in their undergraduate labs, they use  SDS RiskAssist to create 1-page chemical handling summaries that include all the information students need to work safely in the anatomy labs. And it can easily be accessed from mobile devices or laboratory desktops. These summaries are live digital documents that instantly update across all users when new information is added.  With SDS RiskAssist, the lab staff can rest assured that all students can access the information they need to work safely and focus on their study of the human body.

To read about the benefits that The Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University realized using SDS RiskAssist, click here.

Contact us to get your university working with Rillea Technologies and SDS RiskAssist.



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SDS RiskAssist an Ontario-based company that uses the power of technology to give employers control and understanding over the otherwise pervasive and worrisome use of chemicals. SDS RiskAssist enables workers to know why chemicals are being used, what their benefits and hazards are and how to use them safely! Workers can access this knowledge via mobile or desktop SafetySnaps™, from anywhere in the world. SDS RiskAssist is the winner for 5 years running, of Readers’ Choice Awards by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine (2018-2022); the 2019 Innovation Guelph Startup of the Year Award; the 2019 Quinte Business Achievement Award (Trailblazer category) and The Ottawa Network’s 2020 Bootstrap Award (SaaS category). We support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, working with our clients to take action for a sustainable planet.

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