Chemicals and related odors can be sources of IEQ problems in buildings. Odors are organic or inorganic compounds and can be both pleasant and unpleasant. Some odors can be health hazards and some are not. While most chemical contaminants originate from within the building, chemicals can be drawn into a building from the outdoors as well.
Regardless if they are The Consumer Products Act and regulations chemical onsite outlined in the requirements for chemical products that you buy for your personal use. Consumer products can be dangerous, so make sure that you read the label on the product and follow the manufacturer’s directions for use, clean-up and disposal. Or the ones covered under WHMIS2015 or any other legislation, you need to be thinking about the CHEMICAL RISK PART OF THE CHEMICAL! In order for a chemical to become hazardous to a person’s health, it must first contact or enter the body and the chemical must have some biological effect on the body. There are four major routes:
- Inhalation (breathing)
- Skin contact
- Digestive system (ingestion or eating)
Breathing of contaminated air is the most common way that workplace chemicals enter the body. Some chemicals, when contacted, can pass through the skin into the blood stream. Less commonly, workplace chemicals may be swallowed accidentally if food or cigarettes (or hands) are contaminated. For this reason workers should not drink, eat, or smoke in areas where they may be exposed to toxic chemicals. Hazardous chemicals are substances that can cause adverse health effects such as poisoning, breathing problems, skin rashes, allergic reactions, allergic sensitisation, cancer, and other health problems from exposure.
Many hazardous chemicals are also classified as dangerous goods. These can cause fires, explosions, corrosion, and hazardous reactions if not handled safely.
- Exposure standards are set for individual hazards, and yet workers are generally exposed to more than one hazard at a given time – the effects of combined exposure are generally unknown;
- Exposure standards for chemicals are set for a “normal” working day of 8 hours – allowing the body 16 hours to “recover”. Working arrangements are changing, however, and 12 hour shifts have become more common.
Injection is the fourth way chemicals may enter the body. While uncommon in most workplaces, it can occur when a sharp object (e.g., needle) punctures the skin and injects a chemical (or virus) directly into the bloodstream. If a substance with an exposure standard is being used in the workplace, and workers may be exposed, the hierarchy of control should be implemented. That is, if possible, the chemical should be eliminated. If this is not ‘reasonably practicable’ then the exposure should either eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.
Contaminated Outdoor Air
· General air pollutants (oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, ozone, others)
· General vehicle exhaust (carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen)
· Exhaust from gasoline and/or diesel powered vehicles on nearby roads or in parking lots, or garages (carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen)
· Odors from dumpsters
· Exhaust from the neighboring buildings (VOCs and odors)
· Unsanitary debris near the building’s outdoor air intake (various odors)
· Radon (odorless and not visible)
· Leakage from underground fuel tanks (gasoline or solvent odors)
· Contaminants from previous uses of the site (e.g., methane)
· Bioaerosols from water damage, microbial VOCs (VOCs from fungi)
· Emissions from office equipment (VOCs, ozone)
· Emissions from stored supplies (solvents, toners, ammonia, chlorine)
· Emissions from building carpet, furnishings, and other building components (VOCs including formaldehyde from glues, fabric treatments, stains and varnishes)
· Emissions from special use areas within the building such as laboratories, print shops, art rooms, smoking lounges, beauty salons, food preparation areas, and others (various chemicals and related odors)
· Emissions from indoor construction activities (VOCs from use of paint, caulk, adhesives, and other products)
· Elevator motors and other building mechanical systems (solvents and other chemicals)
· Plumbing problems (sewer odors, improper bathroom ventilation)
· Emissions from housekeeping / cleaning activities (ammonia, chlorine, and other cleaning agents such as detergent, dust residual from carpet shampoo, and disinfectants)
· Use of deodorizers and fragrances
· Emissions from pesticide use inside the building
· Accidental events such as spills inside the building
· Emissions from stored trash inside the building
· Fire damage inside the building (soot, polychlorinated biphenyls from electrical equipment, odors)
· Loading docks (vehicle exhausts, chemical spills)
· Emissions from pesticide use outside the building
· Emissions from outdoor construction activities (VOCs from roofing chemicals, and other products)
· Accidental events such as spills outside the building
· Fire damage outside the building
The eyes may also be a route of entry. Usually, however, only very small quantities of chemicals in the workplace enter through the mouth or the eyes.
Regardless of the way the chemical gets into the body, once it is in the body it is distributed to anywhere in the body by the blood stream. In this way, the chemicals can attack and harm organs which are far away from the original point of entry as well as where they entered the body.
In relation to chemicals, a hazard is a set of inherent properties of the substance, mixture, article or process that may cause adverse effects to organisms or the environment. There are two broad types of hazards associated with hazardous chemicals which may present an immediate or long term injury or illness to people. These are:
Health hazards – These are properties of a chemical that have the potential to cause adverse health effects. Exposure usually occurs through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Adverse health effects can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). Typical acute health effects include headaches, nausea or vomiting and skin corrosion, while chronic health effects include asthma, dermatitis, nerve damage or cancer.
Physicochemical hazards – These are physical or chemical properties of the substance, mixture or article that pose risks to workers other than health risks, as they do not occur as a consequence of the biological interaction of the chemical with people. They arise through inappropriate handling or use and can often result in injury to people and/or damage to property as a result of the intrinsic physical hazard. Examples of physicochemical hazards include flammable, corrosive, explosive, chemically reactive and oxidising chemicals. You cannot eliminate or reduce chemical risks properly unless you have assessed the hazards and worked out how to control any risks arising from use of the chemicals. Every chemical that is a hazardous substance must undergo a risk assessment, to be carried out by the employer in conjunction with workers.
Most people automatically associate chemicals with scientists in laboratories, but chemicals are also found in many of the products we use at work and at home. While they have a variety of beneficial uses, chemicals can also be extremely harmful if they are misused.
It is a bad game of safety NUMBERS
- 88% say they use chemicals at work;
- 33% say that people at their workplaces have suffered health effects from chemicals at work;
- 75% have not had training about the safe use of chemicals at work;
- 66% say they are aware of legislation and associated responsibilities;
- 23% say that chemicals in their workplaces are not clearly labeled;
- 15% say that the label is not easy to understand;
- Most respondents do not know the difference between “poisons,” “hazardous substances” and “dangerous goods”;
- Over 50% believe that they have not been given adequate information about the chemicals in their workplace;
- 70% indicated that they would like more information;
- 81% said that not enough is being done by employers, employees and/or governments to ensure chemical safety at work;
Are you following a systematic process that involves: identifying hazards if necessary, assessing the risks associated with these hazards eliminating or minimizing the risks by implementing and maintaining control measures
reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective. When managing the risks, regard must be had to the following factors: the hazardous properties of the hazardous chemical
any potentially hazardous reaction (chemical or physical) between the hazardous chemical and another substance or mixture, including a substance that may be generated by the reaction
the nature of the work to be carried out with the hazardous chemical any structure, plant or system of work that: is used in the use, handling, generation or storage of the hazardous chemical
could interact with the hazardous chemical at the workplace.
Here are some examples of commonly used household products that can damage your health or cause a fire or explosion if used incorrectly:
• cleaning products such as toilet cleaners, disinfectants, mildew remover and chlorine bleach
• art supplies, such as paint thinner and pottery glazes
• garage supplies, such as parts degreasers and cleaning solvents
• office materials, such as photocopier toner
“Multiple chemical sensitivity” (MCS), or “environmental illness” or “sick building syndrome” are all terms to describe the problems of exposures to chemicals that adversely affect our health. Once workers have been sensitized to chemicals at work, their sensitivities often broaden to a wide variety of chemicals that in the past did not affect them. These can range from perfumes to paints, from carpets to fuels.
If worker have the following sorts of symptoms that get better after they go home or on the weekend, they may be experiencing the early signs of multiple chemical sensitivity:
Burning eyes, nose
Cough, sore throat
Aching muscles or joints
Unlike a cold or the flu, symptoms do not clear up within days. After weeks or months of exposure, symptoms may become chronic and only get better after a very long time away from the building.
So, multiple chemical sensitivity is a chronic condition characterized by:
- multiple symptoms (many and variable)
- in multiple organs (minimum 2, usually 4+)
- affecting multiple senses (usually 2 to 4)
- triggered by multiple chemicals (and often also by other stressors and stimuli)
- waxing and waning with exposures at or below levels previously tolerated
· Persons with multiple chemical sensitivity may become sensitized to these chemicals:
Aerosol air freshener
Carpet cleaning products
Deodorant and anti-perspirant that are perfumed
Floor cleaner Varnish, shellac, lacquer
Nail polish and Nail polish remover
Perfumes and body sprays
Perfumed shampoo and other hair products
Pesticides and herbicides
Public restroom deodorizers
Tar fumes from roof or road
· and any other chemicals that may be used or produced in the workplace.
Three main chemical states
All chemicals exist in one of three states: solid, liquid or gas.
A solid has shape and form, whether it’s a dust particle or a steel pipe.
A liquid is a formless fluid. It takes the shape of its container, but doesn’t necessarily fill it. Solvents and oils are examples of chemicals in liquid form.
A gas is a formless substance that expands to occupy all the space of its container. Oxygen and carbon monoxide are examples of chemicals in gaseous form. Gases are usually invisible, but they may be detected in some cases by their taste or smell.
Some chemicals move from one state to another with a change in temperature or pressure. Water is a chemical which is normally a liquid but becomes a solid at temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius.
Knowing the physical states of hazardous chemicals is important factor in understanding their health effects. The physical state of a chemical determines which route it may use to enter the body. For example, a gas may easily enter the body by inhalation, while liquids are more likely to be absorbed through the skin. The fact that chemicals may change their state during work processes that involve changes in temperature and pressure makes it all the more important to take all the possible states of a chemical into account.
Common chemical hazards
Specific types of chemicals have been associated with harmful health effects. Common chemical hazards include:
skin irritation, disfiguring burns, eye injury or blindness caused by corrosive chemical products
toxic by-products, such as vapours and fumes, caused by mixing incompatible chemicals
serious burns from flammable solvents that catch on fire
injury from exploding containers, such as spray cans
poisoning from accidental swallowing, especially with young children
• Always read the label on the chemical bottle.
• Always follow the directions and precautions listed on the label.
• Never use a chemical if you are unsure what it is or how to protect yourself.
• Always take the time to protect yourself and those working around you.
• Always dispose of a chemical properly. Every municipality has a household hazardous waste drop-off location. For safe disposal of chemical products at work, contact your health and safety representative.
Regulatory agencies set the limits to which workers can be exposed to particular hazards. These are known as “Exposure Standards”, “Occupational Exposure Limits” or “Threshold Limit Values” (TLVs). They are numerical values (e.g. parts per million for chemical fumes; dBA for noise levels, 0C for temperature) which represent the exposure levels to which workers may be repeatedly exposed aGenerally, the exposure standard or TLV is determined by a trade-off or balancing of the risks and costs of removing those risks. The following criteria is considered by those making decisions on what is an “acceptable” level of risk:
- The level of knowledge about the hazard
- The extent of knowledge of the risk of exposure
- The costs of “living with” the hazard and associated risk:
- – extent of injury/disease;
- – extent of social effects on injury/disease;
- – extent of demand on and cost of medical and like services;
- – costs of compensation premiums and common law claims.
- The level of knowledge of ways to control the hazard and reduce exposure levels;
- The availability of ways to control the hazard and reduce exposure levels;
- The cost to industry of controlling the hazard and reducing exposure levels;
- The implications of industry meeting that cost.
Therefore the health and safety of workers is not always paramount in the setting of safe standards. A number of factors point to the limited reliability of the standard-setting process determining absolute “safe” exposure levels.
And are regarded as an “acceptable risk”. DO YOU HAVE FIRMLY IN PLACE
correct labelling of containers and pipework, using warning placards and outer warning placards and displaying of safety signs
· maintaining a register and manifest (where relevant) of hazardous chemicals and providing notification to the regulator of manifest quantities if required
· identifying risk of physical or chemical reaction of hazardous chemicals and ensuring the stability of hazardous chemicals
· ensuring that exposure standards are not exceeded
· provision of health monitoring to workers
· provision of information, training, instruction and supervision to workers
· provision of spill containment system for hazardous chemicals if necessary
· obtaining the current Safety Data Sheet (SDS) from the manufacturer, importer or supplier of the chemical
· controlling ignition sources and accumulation of flammable and combustible substances provision and availability of fire protection, fire fighting equipment and emergency and safety equipment
· preparing an emergency plan if the quantity of a class of hazardous chemical at a workplace exceeds the manifest quantity for that hazardous chemical
· stability and support of containers for bulk hazardous chemicals including pipework and attachments decommissioning of underground storage and handling systems
· notifying the regulator as soon as practicable of abandoned tanks in certain circumstances
The priority they might give to worker safety is probably not the same priority that workers would give to worker safety.
However, most chemicals can be used safely in the workplace, provided that:
- Hazards are known and understood.
- Chemicals are used correctly.
- The correct equipment for processing chemicals is available, used and maintained.
- Workers are informed about hazards and are trained in the correct procedures to control chemical risks (and they use them).
- Any problems that do arise (spills, splashes and the like) are fixed quickly.
Just make sure you can say this for all the chemicals you use at work.