Chemical Hazards

Cleaning shouldn't create new hazards

It is a principle of occupational health and safety that eliminating or controlling a hazard shouldn’t create a new hazard. A perfect example of this is found in some of the chemicals that come into schools. Although cleaning and maintenance clearly make for a safer workplace, the chemicals that are used or produced in these processes (e.g., disinfectants to get rid of viruses, asphalt fumes from roof repairs, or off-gassing from floor varnish) can themselves be dangerous to education workers and students.  Safer substitutes may be available, or these chemicals can be used outside of regular school hours with extra ventilation.

Workers have a right to know about potential workplace hazards, so employers must make available to all workers a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for any chemicals that are used and/or stored in the school. Information can be found on the SDS about possible risks of exposure or overexposure, how the chemical should be safely used (including precautions about combining chemicals), and emergency procedures. Additionally, all chemicals should be appropriately labeled. Because of these requirements, all chemicals in the workplace should be provided by the employer – workers should not bring in cleaners or scented products.

Currently the law does not require “consumer products” (e.g., window cleaner purchased at a hardware store) to have SDSs. However, because workers have a right to know about workplace hazards, all of the information that would be on an SDS should still be made available to workers.

All education workers should have regular Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training and should also be trained in the appropriate use of any chemical that is a part of their job.

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