I was saddened to read the Toronto Star’s article on workers exposed to toxic chemicals in a Peterborough plant this week and the efforts that Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn, is making to expedite Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims for workers.
The effects of chemical exposure in the workplace can be devastating and the reality is that these effects typically only appear in the latter years of one’s life. With cancer so prevalent in our society, many workers never connect their diagnosis with workplace exposures.
Why is Good Workplace Occupational Health so Hard?
According to the Chemical Abstract Services (CAS) registry, there are more than 130 million chemicals currently registered. In 2014, more substances were registered than in the combined years from 1965 to 1990! Properly understanding the hazards of these chemicals in each unique industrial location takes time. How can employers possibly keep up?
Employers Must Manage Occupational Health with Foresight!
We can use the lessons from the past to manage the chemicals of the present and future. For example, we know volatile substances and dust can be hazardous so precautions should be taken to ensure good ventilation and/or respirators are used when workers can be exposed to these materials. This will be especially challenging going forward with nanoparticles, since they can not be seen with the naked eye.
Chemical Knowledge is a Key
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) documents provide curated information about the chemicals employers are using. Employers must access this knowledge to proactively make sound decisions on when protection is needed. Sometimes the WHMIS documents even provide specific information on the type of protection needed, though not often since the supplier can not know how the chemical will be used in each workplace. Employers must engage in the identification of hazards and ensure workers are properly protected.
And Learn from Others
A recent The Synergist article entitled Growing Pains, Personal Protective Equipment for Workers in the Emerging Cannabis Industry, discusses industry hazards associated with pesticides, marijuana dust, marijuana resin, UV light, and mold spores. The article helps to summarize the issues and identify areas where personal protective equipment must be carefully chosen to properly protect employees.
As Canada moves towards legalizing cannabis, manufacturers can use references like these to understand potential exposure implications and ensure employees are properly protected from day one.
Rillea Technologies can help employers to manage their chemicals with foresight and maintain good occupational health for their valued workers! Contact us for more information.