How to Begin Substituting for less Hazardous Chemicals

Reducing your company’s chemical footprint by reducing the exposure to high hazard chemicals in the workplace can be achieved by substituting chemicals you use each day for similar chemicals that are less hazardous. As an example, a liquid can be substituted for a powder, or perhaps the work task to weigh out powders could be eliminated by buying the powder pre-packed. It still needs to confirmed that the replacement substance does not create a greater hazard than the current one.

There are many benefits to an organization from substitution; including:

  1. Improved immediate and long-term health of the workers potentially exposed to the hazardous substance
  2. Reduced costs to the organization by:
    1. lowering sickness absence
    2. spending less on control measures
  3. Cost savings on
    1. fire and explosion protection
    2. product consumption
    3. materials
    4. compliance with environmental standards
  4. Increased efficiency of work processes
  5. Reduced impact on the environment

Where to Begin
Start by eliminating any avoidable exposure to dangerous substances.  Look at open processes, (e.g. painting big surfaces, mixing /compounding in open containers/vessels) and processes that generate dust, vapours or fumes or disperse liquids in the air e.g. welding, spraying paint.

If you cannot change the work process, look at the substances being used by the organization and consider substituting substances that:

  1. increase fire and explosion risks
  2. potentially may lead to high exposure of workers
  3. result in exposure to many workers
  4. are carcinogenic or mutagenic
  5. are volatile, e.g., organic solvents
  6. are dispersed in the air (aerosols, dust)
  7. cause acute health risks, e.g., poisons, corrosives, and irritants
  8. cause chronic health risks, such as allergens, substances toxic for reproduction and others
  9. have already caused problems in your enterprise (health problems, accidents or other incidents)
  10. cause occupational diseases
  11. make regular health monitoring (medical examination of workers) necessary
  12. can be absorbed through the skin
  13. the use of personal protective equipment, especially respiratory protection, is necessary

Practical Steps to Substitution

Approval may be required before you take the practical steps towards substitution, ask yourself:

  • Who decides on what substance is being purchased?
  • Who has to comment or give agreement?

There are three steps to substitution:

Once you have identified that the substance or process is a hazard.

  1. Identify the alternatives: find out all the options available to you. Look for alternative process methods (to remove the need to use a substance entirely) and potential replacement substances (if elimination is not possible). If the substance you wish to replace is used in a widely applied process such as spray-painting or degreasing, then the number of options available is likely to be larger.
  2. Compare the alternatives: evaluate alternatives against the substance or process you are using at the moment. Complete a risk assessment of all the alternatives, including the substance or process used, and compare your findings. Think about what could happen if you use the alternatives. Does the alternative pose a new hazard and risk under the conditions of use? Will it work for the intended purposes?
  3. Decide whether or not to substitute: make a decision based on the regulatory requirements, technological possibilities, potential implications for the quality of the products, costs, including the required investment, and training for use of the new product.

Once you introduce the substitute assess how it is working.

Speak to a Chemscape Representative for further information on the elimination and substitution of dangerous substances as well as how you can use our CHAMP technology in msdsBinders to begin substituting for less hazardous chemicals.

Author: chemscape

Michael Phibbs, CIH ROH MBA, is a Certified Industrial Hygienist by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and Registered Occupational Hygienist by the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists. Mike owns Deerfoot Consulting and has authored 1000's of Material Safety Data Sheets. Mike also owns Chemscape Safety Technologies which offers Chemical Hazard & Risk Management Technologies including MSDS management services with msdsBinders, as well as online WHMIS and TDG training courses.

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