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Chemicals Hazards Management – Past, Present & Future

Written by: Lisa Hallsworth

Published on: 13 February 2017

Does Anybody Remember Encyclopedias?

They were my introduction to the world outside my family and I found it fascinating.

I used Collier's Encyclopedias together with the school library collection to complete my high school chemistry projects.  For those of you who have no clue what I am talking about, image having to look up properties for chemicals manually in many different sources and locations! When WHMIS 1988 came along, I remember thinking what a great asset this was with so much chemical-specific knowledge all in one document called the Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

How things have changed!

Today, of course, we have the internet and more information at our figure tips than I could have ever imagined! And that begs the question; Is WHMIS and the (M)SDS still useful?  YES - more than ever before! We have gone from having too little information to having too much!  The internet presents a blizzard of information and it can often be difficult for the average user to define what is accurate and what is not. Chemical suppliers must create the (M)SDS for the chemicals they are manufacturing or distributing. As a result (M)SDSs present "curated" information about chemicals -  like my encyclopedias they are the first place to look for reliable, consistent information.

So how is UN GHS changing the Safety Data Sheets? 

With the adoption of UN GHS, Canada has a method for classification and labelling of chemicals that is now consistent with other countries around the world.  In our global environment, this communication tool is critical!  It means that whether we work in the UK, US, Canada or one of 72 countries that have adopted some form of the UN GHS, we should be able to understand the hazards associated with a chemical we are using, storing, or handling. That's awesome because chemical properties and usage know no borders!

Where do we go from here?

The fact that more than 100 million substances are found in the Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) Registry, shows we have become global developers, producers and consumers of chemicals. In the year 2014, more substances were registered with the CAS Registry than in the years from 1965-1990 combined! With so much chemical information at our figure tips through the internet, our brilliant chemists continue to formulate better products to meet our insatiable appetite! Better paints, better adhesives, better tires, better engineered hardwood, better insulation, better clothing and the list goes on!

Informing users!

With so many more chemicals to keep track of, how are companies managing to protect their employees? Let's go back to the (M)SDS for a moment.  In 1988, when WHMIS in Canada was established, the chemical market was in need of better information and WHMIS was the answer.  With the use of chemicals growing exponentially since then, the average number of (M)SDSs per company has grown.  It is no longer practical to require employees to review a ten page document on each chemical.  Heck some companies I've worked with have what would be the equivalent of an entire volume of encyclopedias, just in the number (M)SDSs that they manage! Is it reasonable to expect employees to be familiar with all this information? Of course not! So what is the answer?

The future is here!

Just as search engines developed a way for users to personalize search criteria on pretty much anything, companies need a way to take "curated" information on chemicals and enable their employees to "search" it for hazard knowledge.  Sound too good to be true! It's not! With "enabling technologies", things that were impossible even 5 years ago, are now possible.  Technology is changing the way we take vacations, find rides and our general expectation of accessibility to knowledge. This expectation is spilling over into the workplace and employees are beginning to demand easier access to knowledge about the hazards they may face. Companies will do best to embrace new technologies as an asset, using them to communicate "curated" knowledge with and engage employees in their workplace. The future is here, get chemical smart now!

To find out more about existing technology to manage hazardous materials and to keep informed of  future updates, contact us! Take a step into the future with your company today!

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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.