A biohazard is an organism or a by-product that is harmful or could be harmful if exposed to or comes in contact with human beings. Biohazards could be blood or blood products, animal or human feces, urine or vomit, bacteria, viruses, toxins or any type of medical waste. Biohazards can be found in many industrial or commercial settings as well as hospitals or other health care settings.
In Canada and other industrialized countries biohazards have to be labelled under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). That is aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Health Canada regulates WHIMS in Canada and is responsible for creating and maintaining the regulations regarding the labelling of biohazards in this country. Labels are important because they are the first alert to any user about the major hazards associated with any product. They also outline the basic precautions or safety steps that should be taken if a biohazard is present.
1. Biohazard labelling basics
In most cases, suppliers are responsible for labelling any hazardous products that they provide to customers. Employers are responsible for making sure that hazardous products that come into the workplace are labelled and to prepare and apply a workplace label when appropriate. There are two main types of biohazard labels. One that is prepared by the supplier and one that is applied at the workplace.
2. Different types of labels
There are two main types of biohazard labels as noted above: supplier labels, and workplace labels. The supplier label is provided or attached by the supplier. In Canada, it will appear on all hazardous products that are received at a workplace. But, if the hazardous product is always used in the container with the supplier label, no other label is required. A workplace label is required under a number of conditions including when a hazardous product is used in that workplace, if it is transferred or poured into another container, or if a supplier label becomes lost or unreadable.
A workplace label is not necessary when a hazardous product is poured into a container and it is going to be used immediately, or if it remains under the control of the person who first used it, or poured it into that container and will not be used by any other worker.
3. Information that is required on a supplier label
In Canada, all supplier labels must be written in English and French. They may be bilingual, or available as two English and French labels. The supplier label must include certain information including the product identifier. That refers to the brand name, chemical name, common name, generic name or trade name of the hazardous product. It must also have the initial supplier identifier. That refers to the name, address and telephone number of either the Canadian manufacturer or the Canadian company which imports the biohazard material.
The supplier label also has to have a pictogram. That is the hazard symbol within a red “square set on one of its points”. And they must have a signal word that alerts anyone who reads the label to the potential hazard and to indicate the severity of the hazard. There are two other things that must be on a supplier label. They are a hazard statement and a precautionary statement.
4. Hazard and Precautionary Statements
A hazard statement explains the nature of the hazard posed by a hazardous product. A precautionary statement describes the measures that need to be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous product or resulting from improper handling or storage of a hazardous product.
Each hazard class and category has an assigned “hazard statement”. Hazard statements are brief, standardized sentences that tell you more about the exact hazard of the product. The statements are short but they describe the most significant hazards of the product. Each hazard and class of biohazards has their own assigned hazard statement that must be used like “may cause eye irritation”. There are five different types of precautionary statements that focus on prevention, response and disposal of biohazard materials and products.