With an average of 25 accidents caused by exposure to toxic substances being reported to the Labour Department annually, officials at the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have highlighted a number of shortcomings in the area of chemical management.
Among these shortcomings, said Acting Director of the EPD, Anthony Headley, were the safe handling, use, storage and transportation of pesticides and industrial chemicals; chemical safety in the workplace; waste management; the raising of education and awareness; and training.
He highlighted these points during a recent workshop on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) at the Labour Department.
???The GHS ensures that the hazards of chemicals are effectively communicated to workers, consumers and emergency responders in a comprehensible and standardised format,??? Mr. Headley pointed out.
He added that behavioural changes were necessary to contribute to maintaining safe water supplies; an enjoyable and productive marine environment; the protection of human health; and the environment in general.
Chief Labour Officer, Vincent Burnett, stressed that it was important to ensure that adequate procedures were in place to manage chemicals, particularly within the workplace.
He highlighted the plight of a worker who was injured while trying to unblock a drain using concentrated sulphuric acid, and added caustic soda. That worker, Mr. Burnett noted, suffered facial burns, temporary loss of eyesight and was hospitalised.
???One of the contributing factors into that accident was that the caustic soda was repackaged into a new container which did not carry adequate labelling, which would have given information on the proper use of the chemical,??? he said, noting this was not an isolated incident.
The Chief Labour Officer said while it was easy to blame a worker or attribute the cause of an accident to carelessness or poor judgment, the reality was some companies involved in the repackaging of materials or chemicals did not include relevant hazard information on labels.
He warned that without that information and the proper instructions, employers and employees were not in a position to make informed decisions on the type of precautions or safety procedures that needed to be put in place.
Mr. Burnett stressed that the GHS system was aimed at establishing criteria for the classification of substances and mixtures according to their health, environmental and physical hazards, and the requirements for labelling of chemicals and the content of safety data sheets.
???The harmonisation of the presentation of chemical hazard information simplifies the process of assessing risks. Additionally, a harmonised system allows for greater ease in developing measures to mitigate the impact of such risks to employees and other users,??? he stressed.