Don’t Put Hazardous Substances in Any Old Container

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What’s wrong with this picture? Here’s a clue—that’s not iced tea in the jug.

Click for Answer

In this picture submitted to the US Naval Safety Center, the plastic jug doesn’t contain iced tea, juice or any other beverage—it contains antifreeze!

Although antifreeze tastes sweet, which is why pets may be tempted to drink it, it’s toxic. The main ingredient is ethylene glycol, which when consumed, can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, stupor or a coma. An overdose of this hazardous substance can damage the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and lungs—leading to organ failure and death. So why in the world would you store antifreeze is a container designed and labelled for beverages to be drunk?

If you think this picture is an anomaly, think again. Unfortunately, workers—and sometimes even supervisors—too often pour hazardous substances into new containers that aren’t intended to contain such chemicals and without properly labeling them.

Just look at this recent tragedy from Ontario.

Two workers were washing trucks and trailers at a beer store distribution centre. One of them found a liquor bottle filled with methanol windshield washer fluid. But the bottle still had the liquor label on it. Both workers drank from the bottle; one took the bottle home and finished it. He later died from methanol poisoning.

The company pleaded guilty to failing to acquaint a worker with a hazard in the handling, storage or use of a liquid chemical agent. The court fined it $175,000 [Brewers Retail Inc., Govt. News Release, Feb. 15, 2013].

And in another similar incident, an Ontario janitorial company worker asked a supervisor for floor cleaner. The supervisor poured a floor cleaning chemical from a properly labelled commercial container into a water bottle and left the bottle on a table. But the supervisor didn’t label the water bottle to identify it as containing floor cleaner.

The worker found the bottle, assumed it was filled with water and drank from it. He coughed up blood, vomited and briefly lost consciousness. The janitorial company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that the floor cleaner was transferred into a container with a proper workplace label and was fined $60,000 [Hurley Corp., Govt. News Release, Feb. 18, 2011].

Ensure Hazardous Substances Are Properly Labelled

WHMIS requires “controlled products” to be properly labelled to protect workers using them. Suppliers must attach a “supplier label” to such products when selling or distributing them. And employers must apply “workplace labels” to these products in four basic situations:

  • Bulk delivery of a controlled product without a supplier label
  • Production of a controlled product
  • Supplier label has been damaged
  • Transfer of a controlled product to a smaller container.

SUPPLIER V. WORKPLACE LABEL REQUIREMENTS UNDER WHMIS

Requirement

Supplier Label

Workplace Label

 

< 100 ml

> 100 ml

 

Product Identifier

X

X

X

Supplier Identifier

X

X

 

MSDS Statement

X

X

X

Hazard Symbol(s)

X

X

 

Risk Phrase(s)

 

X

 

Precautionary Measures

 

X

 

First Aid Measures

 

X

 

Safe Handling Information

 

 

X

Border

X

X

 

Bilingual

X

X

 

In fact, the transfer or decanting of a controlled product from the supplier’s container into another, often smaller container is one of the most common situations in which a workplace label is required. In that case, the employer must affix a workplace label to the second container.

So in the picture, the jug of antifreeze should have a workplace label on it that includes:

  • A product identifier
  • Safe use and handling information
  • Whether an MSDS is available for the product.

But a workplace label isn’t required if all of the decanted product is required for immediate use or if:

  • The decanted product is under the control of and is used exclusively by the worker who filled the smaller container;
  • The decanted product is used only during the shift in which it was decanted; and
  • The contents of the smaller container are clearly identified.

The WHMIS label and MSDS requirements are going to change soon when Canada implements GHS. This poster explains the symbols used on hazardous substance labels under GHS. (According to the latest information, Canada hopes to have the WHMIS laws updated and GHS implemented by June 1, 2015.)

For more on workplace labels and other requirements under WHMIS, as well as the changes expected under GHS, go to the OHS Insider’s WHMIS Compliance Centre.

And for a safety talk for workers on avoiding exposure to dangerous chemicals—including accidentally drinking them—go to Safety Smart. Not a subscriber? Sign up for a free trial.