How ants, wasps and pesticide offer lessons on the importance of reading Safety Data Sheets
“What hazards are associated with the product?” I asked the solicitor who was at my house giving me an estimate on applying an insecticide in our back yard to eliminate an ant and wasp problem.
His answer: “None. It’s safe for pets and children.”
“Great,” I said, but he didn’t really answer my question. “What hazards are associated with your product?” I asked again. He produced the name of the product and I quickly found a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) online. Right away, I saw that the product did have mild hazards and a warning shown via an exclamation point inside a diamond. My experience with SDSs told me that, yes, it may be safe to use around pets and children as long as it’s applied correctly and cautions are adhered to.
After reading the information, I corrected him and said, “Actually, there are hazards, so your answer needs to include that it is harmful if a concentrated amount is swallowed, but the application includes dilution and is safe for pets and children.”
I then asked what personal protective equipment (PPE) they would be wearing during application, whether they had been trained on the SDS, and why their trucks weren’t marked with a placard. After I got all the right answers from him about the small quantity of the product in the truck, which was not enough for a placard, I decided that yes, I would like them to rid my back yard of wasps and ants. I did ask him to avoid spraying their product on my vegetable and butterfly garden though. I’m sure my address is marked as “Crazy Lady With Hazmat Questions” in their files, but I feel good about the process!
I tell you this story because I want to encourage you to ask questions. As we ease back into return-to-work scenarios and soft openings, it is very important to get all the information. Always.
Don’t take your colleague or your supervisor’s knowledge at face value. If an unmarked container appears at your site or on your desk, ask questions. If the answer you get is, “It’s hand sanitizer,” then ask for it to be labeled and to include an SDS. It might sanitize your hands, but it also might be a flammable liquid. It could be an irritant as well; what if you accidentally get it in your eye? There are some scary stories out there about companies making products they don’t typically make and selling them without the proper information.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some guidance about hazardous materials in the workplace when they are used in the same manner they would be used at home (frequency and duration are not greater than what the typical consumer would use) and does not require that the SDS be provided to purchasers of household consumer products in these cases. However, this exemption is based on how the consumer is actually using the chemical in the workplace.
If exposure is greater than normal use, then the worker has the right to know about the hazards. If you are the supervisor, take the time to educate yourself and train your employees appropriately. Find the SDS (most are available online or you can call the manufacturer), read it, highlight the precautions for your employees. Answer their questions. Encourage your employees to read the label. Most wipes say to wash your hands after using them and before eating, drinking or smoking. People may be confused and think that a wipe replaces handwashing when in fact it doesn’t.
I’ve attended a few webinars on reopening offices, and on those calls they talk about staggered schedules, physical distancing of workspaces and even suspending coffee service. Gasp! We can add talking about the new hazardous materials we are introducing into our workspace to those conversations so workers are safe in every manner.
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Sarah Henderson is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager specializing in hazardous materials/hazardous waste management and OSHA HAZCOM compliance. She currently works as an Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability professional and customer success manager with Sphera supporting military installations and the Defense Logistics Agency with hazmat management practices, environmental compliance and sustainability opportunities. Henderson has more than 20 years of EHS&S experience and is currently serving on the board of directors of the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals.