Chemical Hazards Assessment and Prioritization

Intro: This podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Chris: Hello and welcome to CCOHS podcasts.

Chemical products are found in every workplace. Understanding just how hazardous different chemicals are can be challenging for small and medium-sized workplaces. They rely on the chemicals safety data sheet which has information on how hazardous the chemical is and its correct use.

Workplaces must keep safety data sheets for all the hazardous products they use. Keeping these data sheets, organized, current and accessible is key to keeping the workplace safe and compliant.

But what if you still have more questions about a chemical you are using at work?

Today. We are talking with Dr. Thomas Tenkate, Associate Professor at Ryerson University School of Occupational and Public Health.

Thank you for joining us. Dr. Tenkate.

Dr. Tenkate: Thanks for having me.

Chris: You and a team of researchers have been working on new ways to assess and understand chemical hazards.

What is chemical safety in the context of your research?

Dr. Tenkate: For us, chemical safety refers to the language, your workplace managers. It's chemicals to ensure that workers can use the chemicals in a safe way. This involves having a good understanding of several factors including the Hazardous properties of each chemical product, how the chemicals are supposed to be used, along with how they are actually used, and then how workers are exposed and whether this exposure is within acceptable limits.

To make this happen, all workers need to have appropriate training about each chemical product. They're using, I'm using the term chemical product because many chemicals in the workplace are a mixture of a number of chemicals. So, once you are using a product that contains a mixture of chemicals, you have to try and understand the properties of each chemical as well as what happens when the chemicals are mixed together.

A critical component of chemical safety management in Canada is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. What we commonly refer to as WHMIS. WHMIS is a national system for communicating chemical hazards. It includes a classification of chemical hazards, labeling requirements for containers, the need for safety data sheets or what we know as SDS’s. These have to be provided by a supplier when selling each chemical, and then there is also requirements for worker education and training programs.

So overall, our research tries to help workers and workplaces better understand the hazardous properties of the chemicals they use, to better assess the health and safety risks of workers who use the chemicals, and to help manage chemicals in a way that ensures the risks to workers minimized.

Chris: Is there a specific type of workplace that is affected by these hazards.

Dr. Tenkate: Yes, all workplaces use chemicals. Some workplaces, such as office environments, may only have a few chemicals that workers may interact with, whereas other workplaces, such as in manufacturing, have a large number of chemicals that workers are coming to contact every day

In Canada, ninety-nine percent of businesses are small to medium in size, and we know that these businesses have a higher risk of injury for their workers, while also having less of an ability to control the risk as compared with large workplaces. Therefore, small businesses really find it difficult to assess the hazards and risks of the chemicals their workers use.

Chris: What are some of the risks associated with chemical hazards.

Dr. Tenkate: Yeah, worldwide, it's estimated that one billion, that's one billion people are exposed to chemicals at work every year. And up to half of the work-related deaths are associated with exposure to these hazardous substances. Cancer is the main cause of work-related death with more than 200 different substances identified as being cancer-causing. In addition, workplace, exposure to chemicals causes poisoning, disabilities, and debilitating, chronic diseases. Workplace chemicals. Also have toxic effects on various parts of the body, including the reproductive cardiovascular, respiratory and immune systems, as well as impacting specific organs such as the liver kidney and brain.

Chris: So, some very serious hazards among this list. What can workplaces do to reduce risk?

Dr. Tenkate: There are several things that workplaces can do to ensure that chemicals are being used safely. All chemicals coming into workplace, need to have up-to-date safety data sheets. These safety data sheet, explain the hazards associated with the chemical. They describe the properties of the chemical in terms of fire and explosion, list the precautions to be followed to use the chemical safely, and explain what to do in an emergency. It's also important that workers using a chemical are familiar with its safety data sheet and the way in which the chemical is to be used safely. This is where training comes into play. This training is not just general WHMIS training about labels and symbols, but also training that is specific to the workplace in terms of operational processes and the tasks undertaken by workers.

Workplaces should also review the chemicals. They are using to ensure that the current chemicals are really needed or whether less hazardous chemicals can be used. Instead, in addition, current control measures should be assessed to see whether they are effective, and work practices should be reviewed to ensure that worker exposures are kept as low as possible.

Chris: Can you tell us a bit about the new tool you've developed?

Dr. Tenkate: For sure. Now, so if anyone has looked at a safety data sheet lately, we used to call them material safety data sheets or chemical safety data sheets but find that they're pretty technical. This means that many workers find it hard to understand what the hazards are for the chemicals they're using. This also makes it difficult for a workplace to compare how hazardous different chemicals are.

Because of the resources needed to stay on top of reviewing and assessing chemicals small and medium-sized businesses really find it challenging to manage chemicals safely. To help with this, we have developed a series of free electronic spreadsheet tools which allow workplaces to easily assess the hazards of a particular chemical product. And also, to assess the risk to workers based on the way the chemicals being used.

Our latest tool is called CHAP Risk. CHAP stands for chemical hazard assessment and prioritization. So, using CHAP to assess the hazards associated with a chemical CHAP Risk asks the user to review the safety data sheet for the product. Then using some drop-down menus in the spreadsheet, the hazard statements or hazard codes, which are listed in section 2 of the safety data sheet, are entered. This then gives a summary hazard level for the product which ranges from an A, which is a low hazard, up to an E, which is an extremely high hazard. If a full risk assessment is needed, the CHAP Risk tool, then ask for some basic details on how the chemical is used in the workplace. From this, the level of worker exposures is determined, and the overall health and safety risk is assessed. Based on the risk level, which ranges from low to very high, an appropriate control approach is also suggested by the tool.

So overall, the CHAP Risk tool can help workplaces to compare the hazards and risks posed by the chemicals are using. And from this they can focus on ensuring that the most hazardous or risky chemicals are used safely and that can be by either substituting them for less hazardous products, or by making sure that the work practices and control measures in place are appropriate.

Chris: That's great. Is there a final comment that you would like to share with our audience?

Dr. Tenkate: Yeah, I would really like to emphasize that the safe use of chemicals in the workplace is extremely important. So, even though workplaces are legally required to implement WHMIS, and WHMIS is really important, the CHAP Risk tool can provide some additional support in understanding the hazards and risks posed by chemicals and particularly within the specific context of each workplace.

Chris: Thanks for talking with us today Dr. Tenkate. The CHAP Risk tool is available for free from the CHAP website. Go to Ryerson dot c-a and search C-H-A-P. The website contains the range of CHAP tools along with videos and other resources to assist in using the tools.

You can also find resources on chemical hazards and working safely with chemicals at CCOHS dot c-a. Select hazards, then chemical.

Thanks for listening.