Originally Published: July 2017
Every organization that handles hazardous chemicals is different. They vary in the type of chemicals used, the reasons they use the chemicals, the number of people who handle the chemicals and the resources they have available to mitigate the hazards associated with chemical use. But what management of manufacturers, schools, hospitals and service companies have in common is the responsibility to protect the people who handle the chemicals.
What does the Occupational Health and Safety Act say?
In Ontario the Occupational Health and Safety Act identifies 3 groups of people who have responsibilities with respect to chemical handling. Their roles according to the act are summarized below:
Employers who must –
- provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker;
- acquaint a worker or a person in authority over a worker with any hazard in the work and in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any chemical agent;
- take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.
Supervisors who must ensure every worker –
- works in the manner and with the protective devices, measures and procedures required by the Act and any of the regulations under the act that apply to their organization;
- uses or wears the equipment, protective devices or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn.
Workers who shall –
- work in compliance with the provisions of the Act and its regulations;
- use or wear the equipment, protective devices or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn.
What does this mean for chemical safety in my organization?
As a Manager with the authority to hire and fire employees and with control over a budget you are the “Employer”. This requires that you establish a detailed and functioning safety system that does more than handout safety rules and collect signatures on “boilerplate” training documents. Being a part of management means you cannot assume that everything is working correctly – you must have feedback on the status of your safety system to ensure it is supporting a safe work environment.
It does not mean you are the expert. You most likely have Technical Advisors – H&S professionals, engineers or consultants who provide the detailed knowledge and judgement required to make decisions about the safe use, handling and storage of chemicals. Your job is to ensure that the direction set by your advisors is clear, communicated, audited and supported. You are ultimately responsible for safe chemical handling.
A Supervisor is not a manager. A Supervisor is in daily contact with employees to provide instruction and guidance and is responsible for employee work and actions. Supervisors are not experts on chemicals and need to be provided with additional information on company standards and the specific safety precautions that chemical handlers must take. They are the group who can ensure that work instructions make complex processes feel simple, if they have received the necessary training, communication and support.
Chemical Handlers are the people (employees, students, contractors) who come in contact with the chemicals. They do not possess the technical understanding or skill of the experts. They are usually given access to vast, inconsistent or ambiguous chemical information (your binder of SDSs) – which they don’t read! If confronted with a task that is not clear or for which there is no supervisory follow-up, they will develop their own methods. Without a good system for handling chemicals safely, they are at risk.
Management is responsible!
The goal of your safety system is to ensure that the Chemical Handlers have easy access to information, in a timely fashion and in a form that is easily understood. The ultimate responsibility for handling chemicals safely rests with management. Managers have a legal requirement and an ethical responsibility for workplace safety. Most importantly, managers have access to the resources needed to ensure the organization has up to date information, a clear understanding of the hazards, a process to assess and mitigate risk, tools to communicate broadly and finally they have the ability to ask the questions that ensure the system is effective. In short, managers are responsible for safe chemical handling.
Need help to identify your chemical hazards? Rillea Technologies can conduct an audit of your chemicals in a fraction of the time required by other consultants, with the help of software used to analyze SDS data. Contact us to get started.