A brief overview of chemical safety assessments

Between 2011 and 2016 there were 229 fatal work injuries caused by chemicals or chemical products. Whether in a confined space or outside, it’s important to protect workers from these types of hazards by properly auditing the conditions.

One tool to prevent such hazards is to do a chemical safety assessment. This type of analysis ensures that there are effective chemical safety control measures in place.

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Use this Excel template to comple a thorough hazardous chemical risk assessment.

How does the EPA regulate toxic chemicals?

There are many laws that govern how businesses use and dispose of chemicals. While not the first federal regulation regarding commercial chemical use, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is one of the biggest driving forces behind modern compliance standards in the United States.

Congress passed this law in 1976 with three main goals:

  1. Properly assess brand new chemicals before they reach consumers
  2. Control existing chemicals that posed health risks to the public
  3. Regulate how individuals and businesses could distribute and use these chemicals

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces standards within this law using a four-part chemical safety assessment process.

What is a chemical safety assessment?

A chemical safety assessment is a type of risk analysis done specifically for chemicals. It’s an important documentation step for ensuring the safety of all commercial goods. So, whether you’re an importer, manufacturer, or a distributor, you must complete an assessment of the chemicals you use in your products.

The goal of these analyses is to find toxic substances that may be present in a product and to set up control measures to prevent them from harming consumers. A thorough analysis should include the risks that products pose at all stages in the supply chain.

For example, if you manufacture baby products, you want to analyze how they might pose a risk to during production, in transit, and in use by the customer. That’s because different uses or handling of the product may create a new hazard—one that didn’t exist in the manufacturing facility.

For each risk that you identify in your assessment, you must include control measures that you will implement. This establishes a risk management program which you will need to enforce on a regular basis.

What does a chemical safety assessment include?

A chemical safety assessment can be broken down into three main stages: identification, characterization, and assessment.

IDENTIFICATION: Decide which chemicals and substances need to be included in your analysis.

CHARACTERIZATION: Determine if the chemical is regulated, hazardous, prohibited, etc.

ASSESSMENT: Analyze each chemical to determine if it is above the regulated amount or if it contains any potentially harmful, unregulated substances.

To complete your assessment, you will need some information first:

  • A safety data sheet from your suppliers
  • List of all chemicals used in your production processes
  • List of all substances used in your production processes
  • Local regulations regarding chemical hazard (especially disposal requirements)

Once you’ve completed your assessment, here are a few things you can do:

  • Compile your findings into a chemical safety report.
  • Create updated safety data sheets for your products.
  • Log action items to implement control measures.
  • Update your employee training program to include any changes to the process.

If you believe that your site needs to complete this type of assessment, you can read more about the EPA’s chemical safety procedures here. It includes a more in-depth discussion of the steps outlined in this brief overview.