For many businesses, working with chemicals is a fact of life. A surprising number and range of firms require the use of substances that could pose a danger to their employees.
Whether it’s cleaning, manufacturing, agriculture or construction and industrial painting, there’s a host of sectors that could involve an exposure to chemicals and, as such, require a robust health and safety policy.
The cost of getting this wrong can be substantial, both in terms of the economic impact on a company through damage to equipment and the emotional and physical affect on a worker. Scientists reckon 4% of cancer cases in the UK are caused by occupational exposure to chemicals and that, clearly, is 4% too many.
A safe business constantly reviews its practices and asks – are we up to scratch?
Simply asking this question is the first step to staying safe. Every business needs a policy that pinpoints the dangers and outlines how these will be avoided.
It must be regularly reviewed and updated to be effective and involve all employees – especially those on the ‘front line’ that are most at risk.
In the UK, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) offers advice on how a business’ policy can match the law. Through the Health and Safety Executive, these regulations encourage businesses to look for alternative, safer substances and offer advice on the personal protective equipment that should be used as well as exposure limits, control measures and monitoring methods.
It’s beholden on all businesses to use the guidance out there to fully comply with the law in their own individual area and make sure they undertake the necessary training and qualifications required if theirs is a particularly specialist area. If there’s even the slightest element of doubt that a business currently understands the law and operates within it then an urgent review is required.
Of course, lawmakers are not always up to speed with the latest chemicals and so caution is necessary, especially with lesser-known products.
The US is in the midst of a political battle to update the 40-year-old legislation that is used by the Environmental Protection Agency – the referee that aims to withhold safety standards in the use of chemicals. The bizarrely named Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act being debated by Congress may not even be the answer to what is seen as a slow and flawed process to running the rule over safe chemicals.
The pace of change may be slow – and may struggle to keep up with events – but industries are much safer these days. Potentially dangerous substances such as asbestos and formaldehyde are no longer in use and regulations on other hazardous substances, such as solvent-based paints, have become much stricter. For example, most paint spraying operations now use professionally installed facilities like paint spray booths from Airblast Eurospray to ensure they are compliant with all COSHH regulations.
Continuing such progress is important – businesses that spot and embrace opportunities to move forward stand more of a chance of being up to scratch when it comes to health and safety. It’s this, coupled with a strong existing policy as a platform, that ensures the best approach to safety.
About Jakk: Jakk Ogden is the founder of Technology Blogged. 25, with a love for good writing, you'll find Jakk playing 'Drag Racing' on his Nexus 5 and rocking a pair of Grado headphones. If you love technology, be sure to subscribe to his feed for unique editorials. View author profile.