The main purpose of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is to protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job. For chemical hazards, the OHSA requires employers to ensure 3 activities are completed:
- Chemicals in the workplace are clearly identified
- Worker exposure to chemicals is controlled
- Workers receive enough information about chemicals to be able to handle them safely
The Role of Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
Most people think of WHMIS when they consider what activities they must complete for the chemicals they use in the workplace. And WHMIS is a great place to start as it covers the labelling of chemicals through Supplier Labels, or in their absence, Workplace Labels. It also provides for the provision and access to Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all workers. Together the use of labels and SDSs meets the requirement that chemicals are clearly identified.
WHMIS also requires that workers receive information on safe chemical handling. It does this through the use of Education which ensures workers understand: what is required on labels and SDSs; the different symbols and hazard statements; and the roles and responsibilities of suppliers, employers and workers. WHMIS also requires that workers be given chemical specific Training on the products they use and their employer’s safe use instructions.
Control of Worker Exposure to Chemicals
WHMIS does not require a supplier’s SDS to provide specific control measures for every workplace that uses a product. It is employers who are required to adapt the information in the SDS for their own unique situation. When looking at developing company control measures, employers must consider not only the information from the SDS, but also the OHSA and its full suite of regulations.
Look Beyond WHMIS
The OHSA contains a number of regulations that describe how chemical exposure must be controlled. These are either the sector specific regulations (Industrial Establishments; Construction Projects; Health Care and Residential Facilities; Mines and Mining Plants) or hazard specific regulations (Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents; Designated Substances Regulations).
From the Industrial Establishments Regulations
“A worker exposed to the hazard of eye injury shall wear eye protection appropriate in the circumstances”
“Where a worker is exposed to a potential hazard of injury to the eye due to contact with a chemical substance, an eyewash fountain shall be provided”
From the Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents
“Every employer shall take the measures required to limit the exposure of workers to a hazardous chemical agent”.
There are currently over 700 chemicals covered by this regulation.
Other Employer Responsibilities
There are 2 other phrases that place a high standard on employers when it comes to chemical use in the workplace. The first is found in the OHSA itself and states that an employer shall
“take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”.
The second is found in WHMIS and places an obligation on the employer to ensure that an worker using chemicals is not only aware of the supplier information but also
“all further hazard information of which the employer is or ought to be aware concerning its use, storage and handling”
The Ministry of Labour (MOL) has clarified this to mean guidance from the MOL itself, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and trade, industry or labour organizations.
A Court Bulletin from the Ministry of Labour highlights how detailed an employer must be when using chemicals in the workplace.
An Ontario company was fined $50,000 after 6 workers were injured by exposure to formaldehyde gas. The incident occurred when the product they were working with was overheated. When reviewing the case, the court highlighted 2 sentences found within the SDS (then know as MSDS) that identified that if the product was overheated it would produce formaldehyde gas.
Said differently, the large fine was not the result of failure to put in place a WHMIS system, but rather the fact that the company failed to control worker exposure to a chemical as identified in the SDS and prescribed by the regulation – Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents.
If you need help meeting your chemical regulatory requirements, contact Rillea Technologies. Our inhouse web app, SDS RiskAssist™, can read your SDSs and quickly help you understand where your biggest risks are.