OSHA estimates that American workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures. Despite existing regulatory frameworks, only a small number of the tens of thousands of chemicals used every day in industry are regulated in the workplace, where exposures have been linked to cancer and other lung, kidney, skin, heart, stomach, brain, nerve, and reproductive diseases.
OSHA promotes the view that the best way to protect workers is to establish a chemical management system that goes beyond simple compliance with OSHA standards, one that strives to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards at the source through substituting safer chemicals for ones that are known to be, or are suspected of being, hazardous.
OSHA calls this “Transitioning to Safer Chemicals” and suggests that the following seven steps be followed in order to implement this transition:
1 - Form a team to develop a plan that addresses goals, policies, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, existing or new laws, new technology, and consumer pressures involved in a transition.
2 - Examine current chemical uses to determine whether the chemical is necessary to the product or process and the actual or potential routes of exposure for workers.
3 - Identify alternative chemicals that have been implemented in similar applications and determine whether there are materials or processes that could replace the hazardous chemicals now in use.
4 - Assess and compare alternatives including the performance requirements for each alternative and the risks to worker health and safety.
5 - Select a safer alternative by weighing the advantages and disadvantages and trade-offs of each and considering if weight should be given to changes in energy or water use, environmental impacts, or waste management.
6 - Test the alternative selected by planning the technical and organization changes needed on a smaller or pilot scale before fully implementing the alternative.
7 - Implement and evaluate the alternative and determine if workers are benefiting and gather feedback from customers or supply chain partners.
To better facilitate your company’s transition to safer chemicals and for more details on the subject, check out OSHA’s step-by step toolkit.