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Does Anyone Read the Instruction Manual?

Written by: Rob Hallsworth

Published on: 4 September 2017


Be honest – how many times have you acquired a new product as a gift or a purchase and read the instruction manual? Most of us would view reading the manual as a last resort. In fact, Apple has got rid of the manual and your new iPhone does not come with any written documentation on how it works.

But if you don’t read the manual how do you know how something works?

Common Sense

There are many definitions of what common sense is, but I like the idea that it is the ability to apply knowledge or information gained in one situation in a similar situation.  For example, as a Canadian and lifelong Honda driver I am pretty familiar with the controls in my vehicles.  Last summer in England we rented a Ford. Despite the different manufacturer and right hand drive I was able to sit in my rental car and figure out how the controls work. Common Sense!

If I was handling Formaldehyde and looked at what type of gloves to wear I would find that Nitrile will keep me safe. If I now handle Phenol I might think that Nitrile would be fine as I am in the same environment as I am when handling Formaldehyde. Common Sense? – No! Nitrile is not acceptable for handling Phenol; I need Neoprene gloves.

Sounds like Common Sense is not always infallible.

Google It

Trivial Pursuit was a very popular game years ago because it tested what you knew about a wide variety of topics. For example – ‘Name the 3 grandchildren in the Beatles classic song “When I’m 64”? Today you do not need to remember this, you just look it up on Google and discover the answer – “Vera, Chuck and Dave”.

Suppose you wanted to know if you need to wear a respirator while handling a hazardous material in your workplace. Would Google tell you that?

Not on your life.

Read the Instruction Manual

Now you are desperate and you look for the instructions. When handling hazardous materials in the workplace, WHMIS requires that the instruction manual for each chemical (its Safety Data Sheet (SDS)) be available for all employees to review. But this creates two new problems.

The first is that the SDS does not have all the specific information you need. Why? Because the supplier of the product does not know the exact conditions you will be using the product under.

The second problem is the large volume of instructions you would need to read. If your organization has 200 chemicals, you have over 2,400 pages of information. This equates to over 700,000 words. Leo Tolstoy wrote his classic novel “War and Peace” using less.

What Will Work

If Common Sense, Google and Reading the Instructions won’t work what will?

You could rely on LUCK!

Or you could be proactive and find a way to develop simple, easy to find instructions that your employees can search and follow. If this approach sounds promising, contact us at

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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.