There are many reasons to substitute chemicals and choose less hazardous chemicals to reduce risks at your workplace. But what are the effects of choosing not to substitute? We will give you the answer to this question, and also include success stories of companies that have chosen less hazardous chemicals for their products.
Dangerous substances can be found in nearly all workplaces across Europe. Some are more dangerous than others and many of them can be substituted to less hazardous substances and mixtures. Some substances are now banned or under strict control, such as asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Other substances can be harmful, and you need to make sure they are properly managed.
If you do not substitute hazardous chemicals and substances to less harmful ones, you and your company face these 5 risks:
- Exposing your employees to unnecessary harm
- Facing emerging risks
- Unnecessary harm to the environment
- Becoming a less attractive employer
- Missing out on competitive advantages
1. Exposing your employees to unnecessary harm
There is a range of health problems that can be caused by chemicals, from mild eye irritation to cancer and birth defects. Sometimes the effects can be acute while other chemicals and substances have a cumulative effect and it can take 30 years before the user notices the harm done by such chemical.
In 2015, 17% of workers in the EU reported being exposed to chemical products or substances for at least a quarter of their working life and 15% report breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust at work.
2. Facing emerging risks
The world is always changing. New technologies and legislation are two changes that can affect the use of chemicals in your workplace.
New chemicals are being created every day. During the last 50 years the production of chemicals has increased from 7 million ton to 400 million ton. We don’t know everything about these chemicals and therefore ECHA have created the largest database on chemicals in the world, containing information about with 140,000 chemicals and 22,667 unique substances.
Some of these are substances of very high concern (SVHCs) and you can find them on the Candidate List for eventual inclusion in the Authorisation List. Once they are on the Authorisation List, industries need to apply for permission to continue using the substance. On January 16th 2020 ECHA added four new substances to the Candidate List.
If you do not substitute chemicals that contain substances such as SVHCs you risk having to apply for permission to use the chemical. This is both expensive and time consuming. Your employees and the environment will also be continuously exposed to hazardous chemicals.
It is also preferable to be prepared when other legislation is tightened. As an example, to switch to petrol or electric cars before diesel cars are banned, so you don’t have to buy two cars in a short period of time.
3. Unnecessary harm to the environment
Many hazardous substances currently exist in low concentrations in plants, animals and humans. When substances are created or extracted by humans, they should not threaten human health or biodiversity. Substances and chemicals are being used all around us in both cosmetics, plastics and computers. During manufacturing and use of the products, chemicals are being released into the environment. Hazardous man-made chemicals have contaminated every environment and wildlife. Birds, polar bears, frogs, alligators and panthers are known to be suffering.
4. Becoming a less attractive employer
If you chose not to substitute chemicals at your workplace you risk becoming a less attractive employer. Employees will care for the company they are working for if they know that they are being looked after. Putting effort into employee wellness can encourage better teamwork, increased productivity and reduce sick leave and workplace accidents.
Work-related health problems result in an economic loss of 4–6% of GDP for most countries. The basic health services to prevent occupational and work-related diseases cost on average between £16-54 per worker.
The 2018 Global Talent Trends survey found that one in two employees would like to see a greater focus on well-being at their company.
5. Missing out on competitive advantages
When other companies substitute to less harmful substances and chemicals, they will be able to market the new product as “BPA-free” for example, which will give them a competitive advantage if your company chooses not to substitute.
In recent years we have seen major growth within the sustainable marketplace. According to a survey by Accenture more than 80% of survey participants said they felt it was "important or extremely important" for companies to design environmentally conscious products.
Success stories of companies who work
BPA-free products in France
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical that has been used since the 1960's. Most of it is used in manufacturing of plastics, but some is used in thermal paper, for example cash registers and credit card terminals. It is also used in bottles for drinks and sports equipment. BPA is classified in the EU as a substance that has toxic effects on our ability to reproduce.
In 2014 France proposed to restrict BPA in thermal papers. They also made it easier for companies to find safer alternatives they could substitute to on a website.
Dr Aurélien Gouzy of INERIS, the French national competence centre for industrial safety and environmental protection explains:
“We have been very active on BPA in France since 2012, when our government published a national strategy on endocrine disruptors. In line with the strategy, in 2014, the minister of environment asked large distributors and banks to make a voluntary commitment to use bisphenol free thermal paper. INERIS was asked to help in developing ‘BPA-free label’, which could be issued to every company with a BPA-free policy.”
COOP has worked hard to ban all packaging containing fluorinated substances. Highly fluorinated substances are used because they can form smooth surfaces and repel water, grease and dirt. Many of these are bioaccumulative, which means that they accumulate in living organisms.
"Consumers in Denmark are well educated about food and product safety. This translates to a strong demand for safer and cleaner products from their retailers", says Ms. Malene Teller, head of sustainability and social compliance from COOP Denmark.
- Exposure to dangerous substances is a major safety and health issue. Make sure you are aware of health and safety legislation in EU and in your country.
- Get in control of your chemicals and the risks with a chemical management system including substance registers and legislation lists
- You can lower and eliminate risks by substituting hazardous chemicals
- Download a step by step guide to start with your first substitution
- Get help from professionals that make the process easier for you. Get more information from EcoOnline, the experts in Chemical Safety. Contact us.