Reducing the use of hazardous chemicals and implementing safer alternatives is the most effective method not only to eliminate adverse health and safety outcomes in the workplace, but to increase productivity and save money, as well.
Since recently the basic industrial hygiene principle has been the hierarchy of controls, which has been practiced by businesses and industrial hygiene professionals worldwide. These traditional measures include engineering controls, administrative controls, work practice controls, or personal protective equipment. However, they oblige employers, workers, and decision-makers to constant evaluation and quantification of a problem, without economic benefit.
Additionally, the adoption of safer chemicals, materials, products and processes, can also provide significant benefits to employees by reducing the potential for chemical accidents and illnesses.
These strategies can lead to:
- Improvement of worker health and safety:
According to the California Policy Research Center (CPRC), in the United States, more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths of workers have been caused by chemicals annually. These numbers are likely to increase unless known hazardous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives.
- Reduction of costs:
In a 2008 study conducted by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, it was shown that performance efficiency, industry leadership and corporate stewardship were improved as a result of transitioning to safer alternatives. Using non hazardous chemicals in the workplace can reduce substantial direct, indirect, and liability costs to businesses and society.
- Reduction of potential for undesirable substitutions:
Before replacing hazardous chemicals with substitute chemicals or redesigned products or processes, it is important to put into effect a process of informed substitution, which will ensure that the alternatives won’t pose new and potentially greater hazards to employees. This strategy aims to protect workers and indicate substitutes that may not cause more problems by testing the hazard, performance, and cost of all options.
- Achievement of compliance with laws and regulations:
There is a great number of international, federal, state, and local regulations in the U.S that require from manufacturers, importers, and distributors to regulate chemicals (e.g., OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976), reveal more information on chemicals in every part of the supply chain (e.g., REACH), avoid certain chemicals (e.g., Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), Maine Kids Safer Products Law), and use safer chemicals where possible (e.g., EU Chemical Agents Directive, EU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive). Being proactive in transitioning to safer alternatives will help manufacturers, importers, and distributors comply with existing laws and regulations while avoiding extra costs from penalties.
- Creation of safer products for consumers and the environment:
Using less hazardous chemicals in the workplace can also result in creating safer products for consumers and for the environment. It’s thus obvious that this approach will provide businesses the opportunity to promote a new, green and innovative image.
As many chemicals and toxic substances pose a wide range of health and physical hazards, it is important for chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and try to replace them with safer alternatives. In this way, they not only ensure workers’ safety in the workplace, but they will have significant economic benefits, too.