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Properly Equipped, But Still Confused…

Written by: Matt Holland

Published on: 3 July 2020

Full disclosure- I can’t say that my chemical knowledge is very extensive. My prior experience includes disinfecting with whatever product was given to me and trusting that my employer had my best interests in mind.


How to protect myself when using a chemical to clean spray containers that contained pesticides? I started by reading through the WHMIS safety data sheet (SDS) to see what instructions I could pull from the document. The SDS seemed to be on the simpler side with concise instructions. The product had the signal word danger and I noticed the hazard statements showed the product was corrosive to metals and it caused severe skin burns and eye damage. As I searched the document, nitrile and neoprene gloves were suggested as PPE for my hands. I felt my confidence building after finding some useful information to protect myself.


It was obvious that the SDS didn’t provide the required respirator information and outside information was needed. To determine an adequate respirator, I went to 3M’s respirator guide. As I followed the guide, I immediately got stuck. It was very difficult to fit the content from the SDS with the 3M guide. I ended up looking into the chemical composition of the product to see a suggested respirator for each component. The problem was that each chemical required a different type of respirator. My earlier confidence had dwindled. I was now unsure of how to properly protect myself. I chose the suggested respirator for the largest chemical component of the product but I felt uncertain of my decision - which was worrisome.


In a discussion with my supervisor after this experience it was apparent that I missed some key points of information. The SDS stated that an eyewash station was required to be within 10 walking seconds from where I was working. This made me realize that I can’t just focus on preventative measures, I must be prepared to act if something goes wrong. The SDS also identified the hazard of mixing the product with an acid. Therefore, I would need to consider the acidity of the product in the containers I am washing. Mixing a highly basic product with something acidic can be highly dangerous. With my limited background in chemistry, I would never have figured this out on my own.

The overall process took me at least an hour to complete and I only found two simple instructions and missed some key information. I can’t imagine having to find instructions for every precaution needed for 50 chemicals. Requiring every employee to research what they need to do to protect themselves each time they need to use a chemical seems like an impossibility. How can any organization possibly be productive in this scenario? But how do I know if my employer's chemical knowledge is good enough to understand what instructions to give me when I use a chemical?


A simple 1- page summary provided by SDS RiskAssist can outline the required chemical knowledge in a way that is easy to understand. Employers must put in the time to ensure employees are properly protected by correctly researching the chemical. From that point on, consistent information can be passed throughout the company. Putting in the time to synthesize information into SDS RiskAssist will save you and your company time, frustration and confusion.

Please feel free to contact us if you would like more information about SDS RiskAssist and how it can help your workplace.

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WHMIS, Worker, Workplace Health

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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.