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March 10, 2014
7 steps to finding safer chemical alternatives

OSHA recently cited a Connecticut company that makes art reproductions for failure to have a required chemical hazard communication program. Why did OSHA fine this business, and how can you replace the most hazardous chemicals at your site?

A worker complaint led OSHA to the facility, where employees manufacture reproductions of prints and paintings. Inspectors issued eight repeat citations for hazards similar to those cited a few years ago at another company location.

Problems included lack of a hazard communication program to help employees identify and avoid risks associated with chemical products like paints and gels. OSHA also found hazards related to combustible wood dust, unsafe use of industrial saws, and electrical safety issues.

7 steps to reducing chemical hazards

OSHA estimates that chemicals are the cause of more than 190,000 worker illnesses and 50,000 deaths per year in the United States. Health effects include cancers and ailments affecting the lungs, kidneys, skin, heart, stomach, brain, nervous system, and reproductive system.

OSHA recommends a process for choosing and using safer chemicals known as “informed substitution.” The agency has published a seven-step process for identifying, comparing, and selecting safer alternatives based on their hazards, performance, and economic viability. Here are the steps:

  1. Form a team to develop a plan for making the transition to safer chemicals.
  2. Examine current use issues, including the purpose of each chemical, the hazards associated with its use, and if it is necessary to the process or product.
  3. Identify alternatives that have been used in similar applications. Determine if any material or process changes could replace the use of the hazardous chemicals.
  4. Assess and compare alternatives, looking at hazards, costs, and the performance of alternatives.
  5. Select safer alternatives, examining the pros and cons of each substitution as it affects hazards, performance, cost, and environmental impact.
  6. Pilot the alternative. OSHA recommends applying the alternative on a small scale and testing the results.
  7. Implement and evaluate the alternative. Look at the impact on safety and health, efficiency, performance, and sales.

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