OTTAWA: Easy-Off and Windex might be a fixture in the household cupboard, but should they be used to clean the country’s passenger trains and rail stations?
Via Rail employees have been buying domestic cleaners and lubricants for use in their operations, a violation of the Crown corporation’s rules about using chemicals.
Over-the-counter cleaning products don’t generally come with instructions on safe industrial use, and might contain unsuitable ingredients when used in large quantities or in confined spaces.
Credit-card receipts and bills submitted by Via managers and staff in Quebec City, Halifax and Toronto between October 2009 and August 2010 show repeated runs to local Wal-Marts and Home Depots.
The documents were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
The practice violates Via’s procurement rules.
“Under no circumstances can employees purchase chemical products with their PCC (purchasing credit card),” says a Via manual.
Via maintenance centres have large orders with chemical suppliers for cleaning and lubricating products that go through an established procurement process.
Via Rail also adheres to an international set of environmental standards, ISO 14,000, which requires an analysis of each product’s impact on the environment.
Elizabeth Huart, a spokeswoman for Via Rail, said a recent ISO 14,000 audit found some area for improvement. She said the purchasing rules are unequivocal about chemicals.
“It’s very clear, and while we have found some minor non-compliances with this procedure, Via is taking corrective measures,” Huart said.
Receipts show staff and managers at the Toronto maintenance centre shopped 16 times at hardware and grocery stores with their credit cards for products over seven months.
A source familiar with Via Rail said the problem is systemic, with the Montreal-based corporation appearing to have little oversight over what happens in other branches.
The source added that there’s always some resistance to change within the system.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of people that sort of give up on things because they’ve got so much paperwork to do.”
Bob Whiting, a scientist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, says the use of chemicals is the No. 1 issue the not-for-profit federal corporation deals with.
Whiting says that domestic cleaners can sometimes include fragrances and other additives that create emissions when used in large quantities. He also points out some household cleaners might not work as well in a workplace.
“There are health and safety reasons, and there are environmental reasons and there are effectiveness reasons and cost reasons for evaluating products,” Whiting said.
“It’s likely that with cleaners people tend to not think about them too seriously _ you can go down to the local hardware store and buy some. But there’s such a huge number of them in stores and they have such different properties you could get very different results.”
Ginette Poulin, who works with Via supplier Zep Manufacturing, says her company offers detailed information on what’s in a product and how exactly employees should be using it. Her company offers training after the purchase.
She says some household cleaners just don’t get the job done when working with trains. She said she was able to swing Via away from using Mr. Muscle Oven Cleaner in Montreal.
“Commercially, you don’t get products that are as strong as industrial products. That’s when I had them try my product, and they said ‘Wow,’ and that’s how I had them use my product,” Poulin said of Zep’s product Oven Brite.
“I’ve also convinced them to use food-safe products.”
© 2010 The Canadian Press