Workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures, according to "Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation" In the US, workers use tens of thousands of chemicals every day. While many of these chemicals are suspected of being harmful, only a small number are regulated in the workplace. Workplace chemical exposures have been linked to cancers, and other lung, kidney, skin, heart, stomach, brain, nerve, and reproductive diseases. Employers should both introduce employees to the "Right-To-Know" regulations and provide training on the various types of chemicals found in work environments. Topics covered should include:
  • Chemical hazard concepts.
  • The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
  • Types of hazardous chemicals.
  • Characteristics and effects of various types of chemicals.
  • Safe handling practices.
  • Container labeling.
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Spills and cleanup.
  • and more.
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Responsible Employers need to establish a chemical management system that goes beyond simply complying with OSHA standards and strives to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards at the source through informed substitution best protects workers. Transitioning to safer alternatives can be a complex undertaking, but a variety of existing resources make it easier. OSHA has developed this step-by-step toolkit to provide employers and workers with information, methods, tools, and guidance on using informed substitution in the workplace. Some Employer resources for Safety Training Materials, DVDs, Poster and Plans:

Why Transition to Safer Alternatives?

Transitions Pyramid It is widely recognized that the most effective method to eliminate or reduce adverse health and safety outcomes in the workplace is to eliminate hazards at the source, before applying other, less effective forms of protection. This industrial hygiene principle, known as the hierarchy of controls, has been well-studied, widely accepted and prominently incorporated into practice by businesses and industrial hygiene professionals throughout the world. In chemical management, this hierarchy guides employers and workers to eliminate or reduce hazardous chemicals at the source by substituting them with safer alternatives. Unlike traditional engineering controls, administrative controls, work practice controls, or personal protective equipment, these strategies can completely eliminate exposure to hazardous chemicals, reduce the potential for chemical accidents, reduce disposal costs, and remove concerns regarding worker compliance and equipment maintenance. Eliminating or reducing chemical hazards at the source, when coupled with a thoughtful, systematic evaluation of alternatives and the adoption of safer chemicals, materials, products and processes, can provide substantial benefits to both workers and businesses. Improve worker health and safety: In the United States, it is estimated that chemicals are the cause of more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths suffered annually by workers.
1 These numbers are likely an underestimate due to long latency periods between chemical exposures and the onset of disease, unrecognized relationships between illnesses and chemicals, and other factors. Replacing known hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives could help reduce these numbers. Reduce costs: Using hazardous chemicals in the workplace results in substantial direct, indirect, and liability costs to businesses and society.2 Step 4 of the toolkit outlines these in detail. Transitioning to safer alternatives can reduce these costs, as well as improve other important measures of success, such as performance efficiency, industry leadership and corporate stewardship. A 2008 study by the American Industrial Hygiene Association demonstrated that making process improvements designed to reduce or eliminate workers’ exposures to hazardous chemicals resulted in greater savings and other benefits than implementing controls further down the hierarchy (i.e., engineering controls, administrative and work practice controls, and PPE).3 Reduce potential for regrettable substitutions: Hazardous chemicals have the potential to be replaced with substitute chemicals or redesigned products or processes that may pose new and potentially greater hazards to workers. Implementing a process of informed substitution – which examines the hazard, performance, and cost of all options – can protect workers and identify replacements that are unlikely to cause more problems or be a target of future regulatory efforts. Achieve compliance with laws and regulations: Although federal, state, and local legislation in the U.S. has been in place for many years to regulate chemicals (e.g., OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976), in recent years new international, federal, and state regulations are now requiring manufacturers, importers, and distributors to disclose more information about chemicals throughout the supply chain (e.g., REACH), avoid certain chemicals (e.g., Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS)Maine Kids Safer Products Law), and implement safer chemicals where feasible (e.g., EU Chemical Agents DirectiveEU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive). Additional laws and regulations restricting hazardous chemical use or emissions are also on the horizon. The cost of not complying with existing laws or preparing for future efforts can be substantial. For example, as a result of a European Union law restricting certain chemicals in electronics, 29% of 200 U.S. firms surveyed incurred lost or delayed sales into the European Union costing an average of nearly $2 million per firm.4 Taking a proactive approach by transitioning to safer alternatives can not only help businesses remain compliant with laws and regulations, but also remain competitive in a global marketplace. Create safer products for consumers and the environment: Transitioning to safer chemicals in the workplace can also contribute to creating products that are less hazardous for consumers and for the environment. This gives businesses the opportunity to brand their company with a new, green and innovative image. READ "Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation" ( [PDF*])