Canadian Contractor

How WHMIS can save your life: Caldwell

September 21, 2016
By Steve Payne
Steve Payne

Toxic building materials – whether in new builds or in existing structures undergoing demolition – are a daily fact of life for renovators and homebuilders. Protective gear, gloves, glasses, masks and respirators should be in every contractor’s possession.

And we aren’t just talking about toxic Chinese drywall or the gases that can be emitted from toxic laminate flooring. Those situations made the news a lot in the past year… but the list of less-publicized toxic products in our industry is pretty long.

Formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical that lurks in all kinds of building materials, including particle flooring and roof sheathing. It’s been linked to all kinds of respiratory illnesses – including cancer. Formaldehyde risk is highest when the product is being cut. Yet how contractors wear masks or respirators when doing so? Very, very few.

Then there is boric acid, also called hydrogen borate, boracic acid, orthoboric acid and acidum boricum. It’s a great fire retardant but the substance can cause kidney damage – or even kidney failure. (Did you know that boric acid is also found in some mouthwashes, to kill bad breath? What?!)


How about fumes from sealants made of acrylic-latex, neoprene, polysulfides, polyurethanes, silicone or vulcanized butyl rubber? Data sheets say these products carry heavy danger to respiratory systems and skin – and can have an adverse effect on one’s liver, especially for those in constant contact with them.

There are various ways to get educated so that you can minimize the risks of toxins on the construction site. The best place, in my opinion, is called the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). It’s the Canada-wide authority on toxins in the workplace – how they must be labelled, how they must be avoided or handled, and what types of training are required by workers that have to deal with them.

Now the new WHMIS 2015 is mandated Canada-wide. It’s a worldwide harmonized version and it takes over from the prior WHMIS (which came in when I was a boy – and that wasn’t yesterday). There’s a three-year window for everyone to change over to this new version, but my advice is, don’t wait, get it now.

Want to know more about WHMIS 2015 or need training? Ask us! We have the answers!

CARAHS is a Ministry of Labour (Ontario) Approved Working at Heights Training Provider (Pro # 34609) Check out our fall special

Toll free 1 866 366 2930

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