Hindsight is 20:20
Let’s say that an employee developed asthma and blamed it on using specific products in the workplace. A workplace safety investigator might have a closer look at an organization’s (Material) Safety Data Sheet ((M)SDS) collection and find that some of the adhesives or paints that the employee was using contain isocyanates, an ingredient known to be a respiratory sensitizer and a designated substance in Ontario.
Any safety investigation involves the use of hindsight. You are looking back with the benefit of experience and the exact knowledge of the consequences of previous decisions (or lack of decisions).
But Foresight is Impossible
With over 135 million organic and inorganic substances now registered in the Chemical Abstract Service Registry it is impossible for anyone to “know” the hazards of all chemicals.
For organizations managing small numbers of chemicals (20 or 30), it is quite reasonable for the employer or joint health and safety committee (JHSC) to manually identify the hazards associated with the chemicals being handled and to complete risk assessments to ensure employees are informed, trained and protected. For organizations managing large numbers of chemicals, however, identifying the hazards and prioritizing the risk assessment activities can be extremely costly and time consuming. Manufacturing organizations and colleges can manage hundreds of chemicals, municipalities and school boards manage thousands, and universities – tens of thousands. Manually identifying all hazards can seem cost prohibitive.
Technology Helps Identify the Hazards
Fortunately, technology is now available to help employers with automated hazard identification. This technology can also help to prioritize risk assessment activities, train and communicate hazards, risks and mitigation directives to employees.
Still, organizations managing large numbers of chemicals often struggle with where to start. A reasonable start is with what the law requires organizations to do. In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour has identified over 700 biological or chemical agents from which employers must protect workers. Like isocyanates, these chemicals can be ingredients in many products used by organizations and the easiest way to determine this is by searching your (M)SDSs for these chemicals of concern. You can imagine how onerous this might be by hand but computers can complete this task much faster, better and cheaper. Start with the products that employees use most often.
Use Risk-Based Decision-Making
With your hazards identified, you must now determine your risk. This involves consideration of when, who, how, where and how much of the chemical is being used.
Use the “Hindsight is 20:20” test for this process. This is when you pause in your decision-making and try to imagine the future consequences of your decision – how it might be viewed by others looking back on it. Look for the worst consequences and ensure that your decision is made carefully with all the advice and knowledge you can access – essentially a mini-risk assessment.
Good risk assessments are worth every penny invested. If a risk assessment is done well and properly recorded, the result is a living document that can not only help organizations avoid catastrophes but serve as a basis for mentorship, decision-making, management of change and continuous improvement.
2018 is here and almost anything can be “Googled” with hindsight. Put technology to work in helping you make decisions with as much knowledge and foresight as possible. Contact Rillea Technologies and take charge of your chemical collection for higher levels of compliance and better occupational health and safety.