Hazard Alert: Hand sanitizer at worksites
You are receiving this hazard alert as an OHS representative of BCGEU members. Please inform your colleagues of the following information.
Due to supply issues, some manufacturers of hand sanitizer are substituting food-grade ethanol with technical-grade ethanol – which contains toxicological properties including carcinogenicity and should NOT be used on broken or damaged skin, while pregnant or breastfeeding, or inhaled in general.
We advise all OHS representatives and workers to:
- Be aware of this potential hazard (full details below).
- Check the information about the hand sanitizer product used in your workplace.
If your workplace is using hand sanitizer containing technical-grade ethanol, we advise JOHS committees or worker representatives to:
- Recommend that the employer substitute the hand sanitizer with a hand sanitizer that does not contain technical-grade ethanol.
- Recommend measures and procedures that reinforce handwashing with soap and water as the best hand-hygiene practice and use of hand sanitizer only when soap and water are not available.
If you have questions about this advice, or the following information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About technical-grade ethanol and Health Canada manufacturing requirements:
Hand sanitizer that contains technical-grade ethanol has a stronger or different smell than sanitizer with food-grade ethanol. The ingredient of concern is acetaldehyde with a content of 800-1000 ppm. (Normal content of acetaldehyde in hand sanitizer is 10 ppm.) The following is an example of a label you should expect to see on hand sanitizer containing technical-grade ethanol:
On April 15, 2020, Health Canada issued a time-limited approval for manufacturers of hand sanitizer to use technical-grade ethanol while higher-grade ethanol was in short supply. Health Canada required these manufacturers to notify its customers that their product contained technical-grade ethanol and to label their product containers with the following warnings: "Do not use on broken or damaged skin. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not inhale."
At the end of May, some lots of Microsan Optidose hand sanitizer with technical-grade ethanol were recalled by B.C. health authorities, and by now should have been identified and removed from health authority worksites. However, other non-health authority BCGEU workplaces may be using hand sanitizer with technical-grade ethanol.
Key concerns about using this product:
- Information about this change in manufacturing, and the potential harm associated with the new product, may not make it to workers.
- Handwashing with soap and water is always the best method for hand hygiene and should be encouraged no matter what type of hand sanitizer is available, but especially because of this issue.
British Columbia's Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires employers to eliminate or minimize exposure to chemicals that are potentially harmful to workers' health (Section 5.2 (b)), and ensure that that labels, Safety Data Sheets and other information are readily available and clearly communicated to the worker (Section 5.2 (a), (c)).
The Joint Health and Safety (JOHS) committee or worker representative has the power to identify hazards and make recommendations to the Employer to improve the health and safety of workers (Workers' Compensation Act Section 37), and to request information from the employer about hazards in the workplace (Workers' Compensation Act Section 42(2)(a)).
April 15th Health Canada notice to industry: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/natural-non-prescription/legislation-guidelines/covid19-technical-grade-ethanol-hand-sanitizer.html
List of Health Canada-approved hand sanitizers: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/disinfectants/covid-19/hand-sanitizer.html
Information on how Health Canada assesses the use of technical use ethanol: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/natural-non-prescription/legislation-guidelines/covid19-technical-grade-ethanol-hand-sanitizer/risk-assessment-summary-report.html
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