Chemical Hazards: Identification & Prevention Of Risks Related To Chemical Products

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risques chimiques

Chemicals are all around us, from the products we use daily to the industrial processes that power our economies. While these substances have many benefits, they also pose risks to human health and the environment. Chemical hazards can arise in many settings, from workplaces and homes to transport and disposal. To protect both human health and the environment, there are many laws and regulations at national and international levels, in addition to adopting and implementing best actions and practices to ensure the safety of everyone.

What are the regulatory frameworks in place to manage chemical hazards? 

What are the means and actions to identify and prevent risks related to chemical products?

Answers will be provided in the following article.

Unfortunately, there have been several international incidents and accidents related to chemical hazards that have resulted in significant harm to human health and the environment


When we mention chemical accidents, the Seveso disaster is generally brought to our attention, especially in Europe. In 1976, in Seveso Italy, a chemical plant, which produced pesticides and herbicides, had an overheated reactor during the production process, leading to the release of a toxic cloud of dioxin, a highly toxic chemical compound. The surrounding area of the plant was heavily contaminated, and a total of 37 000 people were evacuated. The disaster resulted in widespread health effects, and long-term environmental impacts (contamination of soil, water, and wildlife). 


These incidents highlight the importance of effectively managing and regulating chemical hazards to prevent or mitigate the harm they can cause to our health and the environment.

Chemical Hazards: definition & regulatory frameworks


What are chemical hazards and risks all about?


Chemical hazards are a common workplace hazard in many industries, including manufacturing, construction, and healthcare.

In terms of definition, chemical hazards refer to any chemical that has the potential to cause harm to people, animals, or the environment, in various forms, gas, liquid or solid. They can result in various adverse effects on human health, such as acute poisoning, chronic illnesses, cancer, birth defects, etc. Moreover, they can also cause significant damage to the environment and destroy some ecosystems.

Chemical hazards can be classified based on their properties, such as flammability, explosiveness, reactivity, corrosivity, and toxicity.


On the other hand, chemical risks refer to the likelihood of harm due to exposure to a chemical hazard. Risk assessments are thus conducted to determine the likelihood and severity of damage associated with exposure to chemicals.

Effective risk management involves identifying and evaluating chemical risks, implementing appropriate measures to control exposure, and monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of these actions.


Managing chemical hazards and risks is essential and it requires a multidisciplinary team and approaches to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and standards.


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Regulatory frameworks


Every country worldwide has its regulatory framework regarding chemical hazards to guarantee the safety of employees, the community, and the environment.


In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the standards for workplace safety, including chemical hazard safety. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to provide information on hazardous chemicals to their employees, including training on the hazards of the chemicals and how to properly handle them. OSHA also sets exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace.


In Canada, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) sets the standards for chemical hazard safety. It sets the same requirements as OSHA’s HCS, and it requires the labeling of hazardous materials and the provision of safety data sheets. In addition, the Chemical safety program which includes Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan describes all the necessary information and requirements to insure the safe handling and health effects of chemical substances.


In the United Kingdom (UK), the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations set the standards for chemical hazard safety. COSHH requires employers to assess the risks posed by hazardous substances and implement control measures to prevent exposure.


In Europe, many directives and regulations help with chemical safety. There is Directive 67/578/EEC, also known as the Dangerous Substances Directive, and since 2009 is replaced by the CLP (Classification, Labeling, and Packaging) Regulation, which focuses on the classification, packaging, and labeling of dangerous substances. And, of course, when we mention chemical substances in Europe, we must mention the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) which sets the standards for chemical safety, and regulates the production and use of chemical substances in the EU. Moreover, Directive 98/24 EC addresses the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work. It establishes minimum requirements for the prevention of occupational risks from chemical agents, the monitoring of exposure levels, and the identification and assessment of risks.


Finally, employers must provide all the necessary information, instructions, and training to workers on the hazards and safe handling of hazardous and chemical substances.

Identification of chemical substances and their hazards


The identification of chemicals and their hazards is the basis for risk assessments and allows for the implementation of appropriate risk management measures.


For chemical products, as mentioned previously there are several regulatory classifications and global regulations for the identification of physicochemical hazards. Therefore, correctly identifying the products used in your activities is essential to assess their risks and impacts.


In general, there are common communication basics of chemical hazards and they are provided by the supplier through two mandatory and regulatory means. They are the “labeling” and the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of the product.


Labeling of the product provides essential information about the product. It allows the quick identification of hazards and all the necessary precautions to implement when using the product. “The supplier’s identity, the product name, GHS hazard pictograms, the signal word, the hazard statements, the precautionary statements (related to storing, handling, transport, and actions to adopt in case of an accident), other supplementary information related to the expiry date and other regulatory labeling requirements depending on the country in which the product is manufactured/used” are all obligatory information for the product label.


Moreover, the Safety Data Sheets of products provide detailed and tailored information on the prevention of risks related to chemical product use. It is a complementary document to the label that contains this additional information:

  • A complete description of the chemical agents and substances and all their related hazards;
  • The first aid measures to be taken in case of an accident;
  • Safety precautions during usage, storage, disposal, or even transportation of the product and all other regulatory requirements.


All this information is necessary to successfully conduct a rigorous and complete risk assessment related to chemical products used in the workplace, and to efficiently implement all the preventive measures to protect all concerned stakeholders.


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How to prevent the chemical risk?


Chemical risk assessment follows the classical scheme of each risk assessment but is adapted to the chemical products, we are talking about the 9 general principles of prevention.

It is important to develop a risk prevention plan based on each principle and consider three aspects, human, material/equipment, and organizational levels. It is essential to consider all three aspects in the risk assessment, to avoid any negative consequences and impacts in-between the aspects. 


Here are some best practices that can be implemented to avoid chemical contamination or any other incidents and accidents:


On the human level:

  • Training: employees must be trained in basic safety rules within the establishment (with a minimum annual renewal for permanent employees). Specific training related to chemical risk must also be adopted and implemented as additional modules for the concerned personnel.
  • Raising awareness: a safety culture must be established to raise awareness among teams about chemical risk prevention.

On the technical level:

  • Continuous ventilation of the areas: allows to limit the concentration of chemical pollutants in the work atmosphere, thanks to the renewal of the air in the area and the capture at the source by the collective protection equipment (CPE).
  • Providing collective protection equipment: based on the capture at the source of chemical pollutants, CPE protects the operators at their workstation, and all other concerned personnel present in the same area, for example, fume hoods.
  • Providing PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) such as gloves, safety glasses, face shields, respirators, etc. All employees must be trained and know how to use all the necessary PPEs. 
  • Storage equipment and facilities: Storing of chemical products must be rigorously prepared and evaluated. A thorough risk assessment is conducted to avoid any potential incidents. Many actions can be taken such as mechanical ventilation to ensure that the air is always renewed and avoid the accumulation of chemical pollutants.

On the organizational level:

  • Monitoring and controlling exposure: monitoring the level of exposure to chemicals to ensure that the implemented actions and controls (identified during the risk assessment) are effective and workers are not exposed to hazardous levels of chemicals. The monitoring is done on the air, personal, and biological levels and analysis is done by a third party.
  • Maintenance and periodic control of equipment: The periodic maintenance is intended to ensure the equipment is always effective and compliant with internal and external regulations, or that the equipment does not present any additional risk due to wear or poor maintenance.
  • Implementing a special waste management policy: Chemical waste can greatly harm the environment and human health. Therefore, sorting and carefully treating chemical waste is extremely important and this responsibility lies in the hand of the waste producer.
  • Implementing emergency procedures (evacuation, experimental): It is important to have emergency procedures implemented and people trained in dangerous situations. Even if all risks are controlled, accidents can happen, and the employees must know how to conduct themselves when an unfortunate event occurs.


There are existing tools that can be used to improve and help with the risk assessment and risk prevention plan. Digital technology allows the evaluation of occupational risks, archiving, and ensuring traceability actions. In addition, a digital tool can interface with other existing programs and regulatory monitoring tools to ensure compliance and the best application of any chemical product. Pre-configured modules also allow for self-assessment and ensure the compliance of all the procedures with the laws and regulations to ensure flawless management of chemical risks.

Chemical hazards are serious workplace hazards that can cause a range of health effects. Organizations can prevent chemical hazards by implementing best practices for chemical risk prevention to ensure the safety of employees and the environment. Self-assessment tools, laws and regulations, and international standards such as ISO 11014, can greatly help with the development of the prevention plan and a continuous improvement process.

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Risk Assessment and Occupational Risks app

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