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Digital Technology and Chemical Risk Management

Written by: Rob Hallsworth

Published on: 9 September 2020

Originally Published February 26, 2019

Consider a process of chemical risk management that follows a basic framework, uses digital technology and puts clear simple results at your fingertips.

The ACT Framework

Assess the risks of your hazardous product collection by ensuring you have an accurate Inventory of products. Then for each product review all the chemical hazards identified on your Safety Data Sheets. Prioritize your highest risk hazards and review your safe handling procedures for these products to see if any gaps exist in employee knowledge or equipment availability.

Control is the risk management part of the framework. The starting point is always elimination or substitution. Can you find safer alternatives?  If not then protect employees with engineering controls, procedures and as a last resort PPE. How ever you handle the products ensure you have clear simple instructions that employees can find and use. Lastly, try to avoid growing your high risk chemicals by using safety as part of product selection criteria for new products.

Transform is how you sustain the work you put into improving chemical safety. Track your key safety metrics to ensure continuous improvement. Sustainability requires support and follow up from all levels. If you want supervisors to follow up, they need to be clear on what needs "following up". Managers can set these clear "follow up" expectations if they too have insight into the hazards and mitigation steps in their organizations. Good safety results come from the entire organization understanding chemical hazards and their specific mitigation steps.

Change the Platform

WHMIS started as a paper based platform. Binders full of data sheets. Some people still prefer this approach because you can physically see the sheets - but no one reads them.

Today more people use electronic copies of the SDS as their platform. While they are easier to locate, the content is generic and you still have the problem that no one reads them.

Digital technology allows you to create a data based platform.  It turns words into data which you can manipulate to zero in on the insights you need.  For example, you can look at all your products that can cause skin damage to evaluate your need for gloves. Plus, you can add your own information to the system – actionable instructions such as Wear Nitrile Gloves.

You can also send the information to other systems so that workers get answers where they need them. Take a sub-set of key information from your data and link it to your inventory system so when someone looks for a bottle of dichloromethane they see hazard information and PPE requirements along with location and inventory levels.

Or add data to your Learning Management System so that WHMIS chemical specific training is accessed and tracked through the same portal as other training.

Create a Digital Transformation

A digital platform and a simple framework means that it is as easy to determine how to handle a chemical safely as it is to find the score in last night’s hockey game.

Picture opening an app on your phone and immediately finding an electronic document that lists the hazards and your company’s instructions for safely handling any chemical in your workplace. And that the document gives you that information in under 100 words. And that the safety data sheet is only another click away.

The App has plenty of other valuable information – a list of all the products in your workplace that can cause cancer or information for first aid responders.

A structured, simple and efficient way to gather hazard information and identify protective actions makes your organization safer. 

This is the fifth 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 just keeping your WHMIS binder up-to-date.  These blogs will cover the following topics:

1.            Chemical Risk Management – It’s More Than WHMIS

2.            Is Chemical Risk Management Important?

3.            Obstacles to Chemical Risk Management

4.            Simplify Chemical Risk Management

5.            Digital Technology and Chemical Risk Management

6.            Case Study - How 1 Company Improved Chemical Safety

If you have any questions on this article or the series, please contact us. We'd be happy to chat about your chemical safety challenges.

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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.