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Substitution of currently-used materials with less hazardous materials is one of the most effective ways of eliminating or reducing exposure to materials that are toxic or pose other hazards. A hazard is the source of danger or injury. A hazard includes any chemical or material that has the ability or a property that can cause an adverse health effect or harm to a person under certain conditions. Risk, on the other hand, is the probability or chance that exposure to a chemical hazard will actually cause harm to a person or cause an adverse effect.
Other occupational hygiene methods for controlling employee exposure to chemicals include elimination, isolation, enclosure, local exhaust ventilation, process or equipment modification, good housekeeping, administrative controls and personal protective equipment. All these methods reduce or eliminate the risk of injury or harm by interrupting the path of exposure between the hazardous material and the worker. Substitution removes the hazard at the source.
Extreme care must be taken to ensure that one hazard is not being exchanged for another, especially one that could even be a more serious hazard. Before deciding to replace a chemical, one must know what risks the chemical poses to the employees, the environment, the equipment and facilities. If the risks are serious, then alternatives should be considered. A thorough understanding of the potential risks associated to the alternative solution is necessary.
The selection of a substitute can be a very complex process. In large organizations the selection process may involve a committee with representatives from engineering, purchasing, industrial hygiene, safety, maintenance, research and development, environmental control, waste management, shipping, and the supervisors and workers who directly work with the product. In smaller organizations, one person may carry out many of these functions.
Use safety data sheets (SDSs) and other sources of chemical information to compare the hazards of various products. For easier comparison, set up a table with the following categories for each potential substitute. The important properties to compare are:
Although substitution is the most direct method of reducing hazards, it is not always practical. A very careful evaluation must be done before any substitution plan to ensure that the new, alternative chemical does not pose a greater hazard than the currently used product. For example, a less environmentally harmful substance may actually pose a more significant risk for the health of the workers.
If information on your safety data sheets is inadequate, sources like the CCOHS database CHEMINFO provide information on the chemical, physical, and toxicological properties of pure chemical compounds (see examples listed in OSH Answers under Chemical Profiles or by contacting the CCOHS Inquiries Service).
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom recommends a seven step process when considering substitution*. These steps include:
* Adapted from: 7 Steps to Successful Substitution of Hazardous Substances, HS(G) 110 (1994), and Substance Substitution (2011) by the Health and Safety Executive, United Kingdom.
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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.