At one time or another, most people are exposed to hazardous chemicals in their course of their work, regardless of the industry or the nature of their position. From custodians to manufacturing workers to greenhouse workers, even to office workers, workers can come into contact with various chemicals that pay pose certain health hazards. Thousands of chemicals are used in cleaning products alone - and countless new chemicals are introduced regularly in efforts to improve such products. Recognizing that various hazards are presented by such chemicals, it is always important to exercise caution and employ safe handling and storage techniques whenever chemicals are involved in a job task.
The first step in decreasing the risk of injury, poisoning and/or long-term health problems caused by chemicals is providing adequate employee training in safe handling and storage procedures. Unfortunately, training alone does not always ensure that employees will act accordingly. In some cases, workers cannot foresee the possible outcomes of unsafe procedures and therefore carry out job tasks in the quickest and easiest way rather than the safest and most sensible way - ignoring the training they've received in an effort to quickly finish a task. To avoid such scenarios, supervisors should fully explain the risks of unsafe procedures in order to adequately express the potentially extreme outcomes - even if the supervisor has to provide workers with gory and graphic details of past incidents to support their points.
Over the past twenty years or so, government agencies have taken measures to help protect both workers and employers from chemical-related workplace incidents. Canada's introduction of WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) regulations has provided employers with a detailed regulatory training standard, and has empowered workers to learn more about how to safely handle, use and store the hazardous substances that they are exposed to in the course of their work.
Above and beyond governmental regulations, a responsible employer will take extensive measures to protect their team from improper use of hazardous substances in various ways, including providing the required education and training and following the established regulations, such as WHMIS in Canada. Training should be job-specific, determined by the requirements of the worker's position and, wherever possible, training should be conducted in a language that the worker comprehends well. The onus is entirely on the employer to ensure that ESL workers receive appropriate and adequate training to handle chemicals safely, so employers must ensure that those workers are able to understand the training that is provided - or arrange for alternate training that is sufficient for the worker. Employers must also be responsible for describing safe work procedures and equipment for mixing, applying, handling and storing such substances, and should provide emergency supplies such as spill control kits, an eyewash, shower and first aid kit. Finally, employers must also ensure that leftover chemicals have been safely disposed of, and that containers used for such substances are thoroughly rinsed and disposed of.
As a worker, it is important to exercise your common sense and to pursue your own course of due diligence to ensure that you know how to avoid any unsafe situations. Here are some questions to ask yourself when using any hazardous product:
The more measures that a worker takes to learn about the dangers posed by a hazardous chemical, the more likely they are to take the appropriate steps when handling such products. Workers should ask their employer for assistance and/or guidance with things such as replacing PPE or improving working conditions, and they should be allowed to ask employers for help at any time. Workers shouldn't hesitate to ask for a review of current safe work procedures to ensure their safety if current conditions do not seem to provide adequate protection. While employers are of course expected to take various measures for protecting their workers, workers should also work to attain the appropriate knowledge and awareness in all chemical-handling situations. Regulations, training and warning labels would not be in place if chemicals did not pose serious risks, so workers must seize any opportunities to gain knowledge and avoid unnecessary, potentially tragic, situations.
- Have you received adequate training for handling such products?
- What are the potential hazards of the product that you are using or handling?
- How can you protect yourself when using these products?
- What should you do in case of a spill or emergency?
- Where can you find more information about the product?
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