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Chemicals, Dangerous Goods, and Hazardous Substances

The Occupational Health and Safety Division provides support and information to help identify hazards and prevent incidents that could cause illness, injury, or death.  Everyone in the workplace is legally responsible for safety.  

1. Mercury and Dental Workers

Dental workers come into contact with mercury daily. Amalgam used during tooth reconstruction is a mixture of silver and mercury. The mercury is in the form of liquid metal, finely dispersed, throughout the silver. Dental workers can have severe health effects due to overexposure.

The symptoms of overexposure to mercury are irrational, excitable, indecisive and depressed behaviours as well as fatigue, weakness, headaches, memory loss, insomnia, tremors, poor digestion, eyesight and urinary track issues. Unborn children are also at risk because mercury can pass through the placenta.


Workers can protect themselves from overexposure by:

  1. Preventing absorption through the skin.
  • Wear medical gloves licensed by Health Canada.
  • Use sealed premixed, disposable capsules of amalgam preparation.
  • Avoid the squeeze cloth technique as it requires too much handling and unprotected hands may receive a high dose of mercury.
  • Avoid skin contact when cleaning the traps of suction equipment.
  1. Preventing mercury from being inhaled.
  • Keep mercury away from hot surfaces, as an increase in temperature causes a rapid increase in mercury vapour.
  • Avoid accumulation of amalgam debris by routine cleaning of operatory drawers, amalgam mixers, and chairs.  Carpet in the operatory is not recommended as it is almost impossible to remove spilled mercury or amalgam fragments from them.
  • Store unused amalgam under liquid to minimize vapour release (e.g,, mineral oil or glycerin).
  • Wear dust masks to prevent inhaling fragments.
  • Do not overlook the vacuum cleaner as a potential source of exposure. If a household style vacuum cleaner is used, the bag should be changed frequently.
  1. Prevent ingestion.
  • Avoid eating in areas of possible contamination.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Store food away from the work area.

How to handle spills

Equipment and procedures should be in place to handle clean ups. Visible droplets can be removed by a suction probe or mercury vacuum.  If a spill gets into floor cracks or under baseboards, there are commercial products that will change mercury to a less hazardous form that can be cleaned up easily with water.  Equal parts of lime and flowers of sulphur made into a paste with water and left for 24 hours on the spill area will produce the same effect. 

If spills occur frequently, special mercury vacuum cleaners are available that will eliminate vapour from the exhausted air.  Porous surfaces such as carpets and furnishings are the hardest to clean up.  Cleaning methods will likely be ineffective and may discolour or ruin the surface.


2. Operation of Chlorine Gas Rooms

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 require owners and operators of all chlorine gas storage and feed rooms to:
•    Regularly inspect, clean and maintain chlorination equipment;
•    Store chlorine gas cylinders at least one metre away from any heating device and away from moist areas and direct sunlight.
•    Ensure the chlorine gas room is:
•    Self-contained and adequately ventilated to avoid contaminating work areas; and
•    Ventilated when the room is occupied. 
Note:  Do not continuously ventilate a chlorine gas room to ensure that, in the event of a gas leak, the gas will be contained within the room until it is safe to ventilate the room.
•    Signage is also required.  Signage should include:
•    A “DANGER CHLORINE GAS” sign installed on the exterior side of a chlorine gas feed room door.  The sign should include storage precautions and a telephone number to use in the event of an emergency.
•    A “TURN ON VENTILATION FAN BEFORE ENTERING” sign installed above the light/exhaust fan switch(es); and
•    A “NO SMOKING” sign with a compressed gas symbol installed on the exterior of the chlorine gas feed and storage room.

Safe Work and Emergency Procedures

Owners and operators should take the following prevention measures and precautions to ensure the regulation standards are met:
•    Ensure the air supply is sufficient to protect the health and safety of workers.
•    Develop and implement safe work procedures and processes for the moving, storage, handling, and use of chlorine gas cylinders including regularly checking connections for leaks.
•    Ensure that no chemicals (e.g., aqueous ammonia solution) or materials other than chlorine gas related components are stored in the chlorine gas feed and storage room.
•    Have adequate ventilation for the purposes of entering the room to work and in an emergency.
•    Use appropriate safety equipment when changing cylinder(s) including rubber gloves, apron, and a face shield or fitted goggles.
•    Develop a written emergency response procedure to address possible leaks and accumulations of chlorine gas.  Plans should include:
•    Actions for workers who work in a  dangerous atmosphere to complete repairs or rescue other persons;
•    An evacuation plan for other personnel; and
•    Plans for working alone (if applicable).
•    Communicate with a second person who is available on call, equipped, and trained to provide a rescue if a chlorine gas leak has occurred and a worker will be entering the chlorine gas room.
•    Label cylinders with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System requirements and have material safety data sheets readily available. 

Respiratory Devices

A fitted respiratory protection device suitable for chlorine that individuals who are expected to enter the chlorine gas room, should be stored in an accessible location close to, but outside of the chlorine gas feed room.

A functioning self-contained breathing apparatus that is capable of a minimum 30-minute air supply should be available  and stored on-site near the chlorine gas feed and storage room, but not within the room in case of an emergency.  It must have a low-pressure warning device or an escape bottle. 


All chlorine gas rooms in public pools must use a monitor alarm system that activates if there is a chlorine gas leak.  The alarms should be set at 0.5 ppm for the first alarm and 1.0 ppm for the high alarm.  Ongoing calibrations and maintenance should be performed as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
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3. Chemicals and Biological Substances

Employers are responsible to protect their workers from the hazards associated with handling chemical and biological substances.

Most workers will handle or be exposed to chemical or biological substances during their employment.   

Those who work in chemical laboratories, chemical production and other chemical processes will handle chemicals daily.  Less frequently, other workers may be required to handle common trade name products that contain chemicals such as paints, adhesives, photographic developers, and cleaners.

Safely handling biological substances or products containing biological substances is common in careers like food processing, sewage work, laboratories, agriculture and health care, to name a few.

Sometimes workers do not use, produce or handle chemical and biological substances directly, but are exposed to them when the substances are released into the workplace (for example, from equipment or processes such as welding, oil-drilling and servicing, sawing or grinding).

The Chemical and Biological Substances Guide for employers explains Saskatchewan’s general health and safety requirements for handling chemical and biological substances.  It also contains prevention measures and additional resources for the workplace.

4. Cytotoxic Drugs

Cytotoxic drugs include any drug that inhibits or prevents the function of cells. Cytotoxic drugs include drugs used to treat cancer and, in some cases, to treat certain skin conditions (e.g., psoriasis). 

The Cytotoxic Drugs Guide explains the employers’ duties for protecting health care facility workers from exposure to cytotoxic drugs.  Worker exposures could occur at hospitals, special care and personal care homes, cancer and other medical clinics, and home care situations.

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