Take an Inventory of the Hazardous Substances in Your Workplace


The environmental and OHS laws regulate the handling, storage, use and disposal of hazardous substances. Best example: the WHMIS requirements. To ensure that your company complies with these requirements, you must first know exactly what hazardous substances are present in your workplace. The best way to get this information is to compile a hazardous substance inventory.

Benefits of a Hazardous Substance Inventory

Taking an inventory of the hazardous substances in your workplace has several benefits:

Shows the “big picture.” An inventory gives you a complete picture of all of the hazardous substances currently present in the workplace at a given point in time. You can then group these substances into the major hazard classes, such as flammable, corrosive, toxic and reactive, to begin to see the biggest hazards in your facility.

Identifies training needs. You can use the completed inventory to develop a compliant hazardous substance training program or ensure that your current program covers everything that it should.

Reveals any supply issues. Inventories can help you identify potential supply problems or inefficiencies and opportunities to correct these defects. For example, the inventory might reveal an opportunity to store smaller quantities of a hazardous substance by consolidating storage locations or to streamline your ordering process so that a worker can’t inadvertently order a particular product for which ample supplies already exist in different storage sites.

Provides an opportunity to consider alternatives. Conducting a hazardous substance inventory gives you the chance to consider replacing current products with less hazardous substitutes to reduce risks to workers and the environment.

How to Conduct the Inventory

You can keep your hazardous substance inventory in almost any format. (There’s a Model Hazardous Substance Inventory Form that you can adapt and use.) To conduct the inventory, take the following six steps:

Step #1: Put Together Inventory Team Assemble a team to conduct the inventory, including any dedicated safety workers, a production/process supervisor, a member of the maintenance department and one or two line workers. If you have a JHSC, you should involve its members. You could also include members of management, HR staff and representatives of other major departments in your company.

Step #2: Divide the Workplace Hazardous substances are likely to be scattered throughout your workplace. So divide the facility into several sections or areas and assign an individual or group to each section, depending on its size. Provide an inventory form for their use so that you get the same information from each individual or group. (There’s a Model Hazardous Substance Inventory Form on page X that you can adapt and use.)

Step #3: Instruct Team Instruct team members on how to conduct the inventory. For example, explain what kinds of substances they should be looking for, where to find MSDSs for these substances and what information to include in the inventory form. Also, explain what they should do if they encounter a problem, such as an unlabeled container or a hazardous substance that’s missing an MSDS.

Step #4: Compile Individual Forms Compile completed inventories into one master hazardous substance inventory.

Step #5: Evaluate Information in Inventory Evaluate the information in the master inventory. For example, make sure that your WHMIS training program covers all of the hazards posed by the hazardous substances in the inventory and that you have current MSDSs for each substance. Also, consider ways to improve the efficiency of the company’s ordering process and storage of hazardous substances. And consider less dangerous or toxic alternatives to some of the substances you’re presently using.

Step #6: Establish Method for Updating Inventory Conducting an inventory just gives you a snapshot of the hazardous substances in your workplace at a given time. Changes in operations may lead to the elimination of some hazardous substances—and the introduction of new ones. So establish a method for ensuring that the inventory is reviewed and updated at least once a year. In addition, develop a method for adding new substances the first time they’re used in the workplace.