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Hazardous Household, Office, and Consumer Products

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, WHMIS, provides industry workers with guidelines and regulations concerning the proper handling, storage, and disposal of toxic materials. But have you ever stopped to think about the possible hazards associated with office and household items? Many of the consumer products that you use every day could be potentially harmful to your health and safety in the workplace. Having the ability to recognize and properly handle these hazardous household materials is an important aspect of any workplace safety program.

The difference between hazardous workplace products and hazardous consumer products:
One main difference between hazardous workplace substances and hazardous consumer or household substances is the size of the product. Hazardous consumer products are usually small; furthermore, the product must be available to the general public at retail outlets. It is also worth noting that household hazardous items are not distributed with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which makes the need for proper training all the more necessary. Training programs should include directions on how to:

  • read consumer products labels
  • recognize consumer product symbols
  • properly use, handle, store, and dispose of hazardous consumer products

Common workplace hazardous consumer items:
Office supplies (including printer ink and toner), and household cleaners (like bleach, window cleaner, and air fresheners) are the most commonly encountered hazardous consumer products in the workplace. Other products that workers may come in contact with (depending on the nature of the workplace) include lawn and garden products (fertilizers, pesticides, gasoline), maintenance materials (paint, varnish, stains), and automotive fluids (oil, brake fluid, anti-freeze). Familiarity with these objects should not discount how dangerous they can be if mishandled.

Understanding hazardous household product labels:
The easiest way to recognize hazardous consumer products is by looking at the product label. Consumer products will usually:

  • display one or more hazard symbols (poison, explosive, flammable, corrosive)
  • display a single word alert depending on the degree of risk (warning, caution, danger)
  • feature a primary hazard statement identifying the type of hazard
  • outline recommended first air treatment 

Five tips for the safe handling of hazardous consumer products:

  • Keep chemicals in their original containers. If the substance must be transferred, make sure that the proper labels and warnings are clearly marked on the new container.
  • Don’t store chemicals near food. Hazardous household items should not be stored near food products as this will increase the possibility of cross contamination.
  • Buy only what you need. This way, you won’t have to contend with left over materials.
  • Dispose of the hazardous product properly. Hazardous office and household materials should be taken to Household Hazardous Waste depots. Contact your municipal office for more information on a depot in your area.
  • Post emergency contact telephone numbers. These numbers should include: the local fire department, police, and emergency response teams.