Workers Health & Safety Centre

Artificial stone SDSs fail to reveal all hazards. A larger WHMIS problem?

Recent research has uncovered dramatic discrepancies between the actual measured hazardous content of artificial stone products and their WHMIS safety data sheets (SDSs).
These findings join the mounting body of evidence exposing the hazards workers confront with this group of products.  But they also serve to shine a light on related prevention efforts in general – namely the need for workplaces to better review safety data sheets (SDSs) and governments to better enforce WHMIS regulations. 
The artificial stone (AS) findings were published in the journal Annals of Work Exposures and Health. Researchers tested for actual mineral, metallic, and organic resin content of 25 AS products from six different suppliers and compared the results with the information disclosed on SDSs.
The study found the resin content was within the SDS-reported ranges, but there was considerable variability in the crystalline silica content when compared with supplier’s SDSs. Further, lack of disclosure of metal constituents was found to be widespread. Titanium, for instance, while present in all products was reported on SDSs by just two of the six suppliers. Several additional metals were identified in AS products tested such as chromium, nickel, and lead, all known or probable carcinogens.
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An additional concern raised by the researchers is the fact AS manufacturers, importers, or suppliers produce a single SDS for a range of products outlining approximate composition. They noted, “Each individual AS product may be sufficiently different from other products from the same supplier, that they may present distinct and differing hazards to the fabricators.”
Safety data sheets are a critical and legally mandated component of Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, commonly known as WHMIS. These documents and the system provide workers and others with health and safety information about hazardous products used, stored, handled, or disposed of in the workplace.

Hazardous AS components

The main component of AS, also known as engineered or reconstituted stone, is silica. In fact, AS often contains up to 90 per cent silica. A significant concern is the safety of workers who cut, grind, sand, and polish AS products such as countertops, tile, stone veneer, concrete blocks, and accent bricks. These activities often produce an extreme volume of fine respirable silica dust easily inhaled into the lungs causing inflammation and scarring. Over time, this can cause silicosis—an incurable and progressively disabling lung disease. Additional illnesses associated with silica include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and pulmonary tuberculosis.
The researchers also note, “Further investigation has shown that there are other factors that may play a role in the development of disease and its progression, such as the presence of certain metal ions (found in pigments) and organic resin.” In addition to the unreported carcinogenic metals mentioned above, they explained how iron and manganese, both also identified as constituents in the AS products tested, may enhance lung toxicity from silica.  
Researchers conclude, “Overall, AS is a complex mixture, and it would be prudent to report a wider range of constituents than current practice.” Further still, they suggest, “Consideration should be given to the improvement and standardization of SDS.”
In fact, here in Ontario, ensuring disclosure of relevant hazard information is just one of the many WHMIS-related legal obligations with which employers must comply.

Employer WHMIS-related obligations

In Ontario, WHMIS applies to all workplaces covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act along with federally regulated workplaces governed by the Canada Labour Code.
The main purpose of federal WHMIS legislation is to require suppliers of hazardous products to provide health and safety information as a condition of sale. Provincial and territorial law establish employer obligations to obtain this information and ensure workers have access and understand it. Here in Ontario, these employer obligations include:
  • ensuring a hazardous product is properly labelled,
  • ensuring workers have access to up-to-date safety data sheets,
  • training workers on the hazards and safe use of hazardous products, including those made from artificial stone,
  • reviewing this training annually, or more often, if hazard information or working conditions change,
  • developing and reviewing training in consultation with the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) or worker health and safety rep in smaller workplaces (5 to 19 workers), and
  • taking all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers.

WHSC WHMIS training—gain competence and compliance

Intended for workers, supervisors, and other workplace parties, WHSC WHMIS Training offers critical insight the information, classification and communication requirements for hazardous products used, stored, handled, or disposed of in the workplace. This includes WHMIS product labels, pictograms (formerly known WHMIS hazard symbols) and safety data sheets (formerly known as MSDSs). This program can help employers comply with WHMIS training requirements.
Like all WHSC programs, WHMIS applies adult education principles to ensure learning is achieved.

Want to comply with other legally mandated training, including Certification Training for JHSC members? Visit our online registration page for our current training schedule.
Don’t see what you need? Beyond scheduled classes, and where participant numbers warrant, we can work with you to coordinate almost any of our training courses for all workers, workplace representatives and supervisors.

Additional resources:
What do safety data sheets for artificial stone products tell us about composition? A comparative analysis with physiochemical data

Need more information?
Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area
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