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How to deal with workplace chemicals

Hamilton, ON -- It is essential to know what chemicals you have in your workplace. A chemical inventory is a fundamental piece to your chemical safety program and is your first step towards chemical safety compliance -- whether it's WHMIS...


Hamilton, ON — It is essential to know what chemicals you have in your workplace. A chemical inventory is a fundamental piece to your chemical safety program and is your first step towards chemical safety compliance — whether it’s WHMIS training, environmental reporting, or emergency planning.

Taking inventory also provides the perfect opportunity to ensure that you have all necessary Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) on hand. It’s a good idea to have MSDSs for both WHMIS and consumer products that you have in your workplace as the information provided in the MSDS helps to support your chemical program work. The product inventory can also help you determine if any of these products require special attention, or are no longer required so that you can make arrangements for their safe disposal.

Before you start, prepare a form which includes the following:

– name of the product or chemical,

– manufacturer,

– location of the product,

– type of label (WHMIS or consumer) and the symbols appearing on the label, and

– how the chemical is used (e.g. adhesive, paint, cleaner) and form (e.g. liquid, solid, gas).

You may also want to document:

– volume of the chemical,

– CAS numbers for the product (necessary for environmental or other reporting), and

– any special notes, observations, or questions you may have while doing the inventory.

Conducting the inventory

Everyone who conducts inventories should be trained on chemical safety and know the worksite. Take the following steps:

– Do a visual check for all chemicals throughout all worksites.

– Include common products such as cleaners.

– Work in pairs — one to record the inventory as the other calls out the chemicals.

– Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including chemical safety goggles, gloves and closed-toe shoes.

– Know where the nearest eye wash station and emergency shower are located.

Caution: If any chemical container is not labelled, or is leaking, bulging, corroded, or damaged, or has crystals in a liquid, it should not be moved. These conditions require immediate attention!

Next steps

When you are finished taking your inventory, ensure that you have an MSDS for each product. If not, ask the chemical supplier listed on the label to provide one. Use your MSDSs to identify the ingredients and CAS numbers and add them to your inventory document.

Once you have a clear picture of exactly what chemicals and MSDSs you have, you can move ahead with improving your chemical safety program to:

– reduce your chemical inventory

– improve chemical storage

– review emergency plans

– review training for staff and so on.

Tip: Safely dispose of any chemicals that are no longer needed or are expired. This will reduce the number of chemicals to be managed and achieve benefits such as a safer worksite, fewer MSDSs, and simplified worker training.

This article was prepared by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Healthy and Safety, Hamilton, ON. For more information, visit www.ccohs.ca.