Safetip #20: Internal Team to Transition to Safer Chemicals

March 16, 2016
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

In this week’s Safetip, we take a look at Step 1 of OSHA’s toolkit for transitioning to safer chemicals.

Transitioning to Safer Chemicals Reduces or Eliminates Chemical Hazards

Thousands of chemicals are used every day in U.S. workplaces, but only a small number are regulated. As a result, there are more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures in U.S. workplaces.

To enhance worker protection, OSHA recommends going beyond simply complying with the Agency’s standards. Companies should try to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards at the source through informed substitution.

Transitioning to safer chemicals is not easy, which is why OSHA has developed a step-by-step toolkit to provide employers and workers with information, methods, tools, and guidance on using informed substitution in the workplace.

First Step Consists of Forming a Team to Develop a Plan

OSHA’s toolkit on transitioning to safer chemicals is composed of 7 steps. As a first step, OSHA recommends that organizations establish an internal team to take responsibility for developing the work plan for transitioning to safer chemicals, and to set goals. The members of the team must be identified (e.g. existing safety and health committee members, workers, managers, union representatives), and workers from a diverse set of functions should be involved (e.g. designers, engineers, services, maintenance, research and development). In addition, any external stakeholders who should be included in the planning process should also be involved.

There is no single method for developing a work plan for transitioning to safer chemicals, OSHA says. Setting goals is an important part of the work plan. The goals can be long-term, industry-specific, or chemical-specific. For example, goals can include: eliminating carcinogens, reducing the use of hazardous chemicals by a certain percentage in a specific number of years, substituting chemicals of concern from government or sector lists, etc. The plan may also include company- or industry-specific policies on safety or chemical management, targets for chemical use, and approaches for prioritizing and managing chemical hazards.