Feature article - Chemical risk management for the digital age
Elizabeth Dionasari of EcoOnline Global looks at how chemical risk management can be addressed with new technology
According to the International Labour Organisation’s statistical data on workplace accidents and diseases, health issues are the single biggest cause of work-related deaths globally.
Although there is a common misconception that accidental injuries at work are the most common safety blunder, hazardous substances are estimated to cause 651,279 fatalities per year worldwide. This means that occupational ill health on average claims more lives than physical accidents.
Currently, chemical product exposure ranks as the main contributor to health problems that lower the quality of life. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, the construction and manufacturing sectors have posted disproportionately high rates of recorded incidents.
Significant strides have been made towards reducing the number of occupational health and safety incidents globally, but businesses are still losing time and money due to preventable work-related illness every year. As such employers must keep coming up with innovative approaches to address worker welfare if they want to stay ahead of the curve.
Here, digital technology once again provides an effective, efficient and scalable solution, with wide range of cutting-edge EHS platforms available to safeguard company and workforce. Importantly these online tools do away with the need for manual paperwork and Excel spreadsheets, which are laborious to fill out and susceptible to human error.
It goes further. The best approach for achieving high compliance standards and building a productive, participation-led chemical management system is to use AI-backed cloud-based software. It can automate processes such as establishing a chemical safety policy, collecting safety data sheets (SDSs) for inventory products and logging chemical risk assessments (CRAs), while scheduling review reminders and establishing a robust audit trail.
This central ‘hub’ not only breaks down siloes, it foster collation. It is understandable that each stakeholder in the business, from frontline workers to EHS and department managers, senior directors and clients, has different wants, fears and needs. Ultimately, they all have a common goal: to minimise the risk from chemicals used in the workplace. So, taking charge of CRAs digitally can help organisations to meet their obligation to lower the negative health impacts of chemical exposure consistently, reassuring stakeholders at every level.
Who takes charge?
EHS and department managers are typically the point of contact for safety compliance. They are responsible for producing a safety policy, completing risk assessments and reviewing controls.
Creating a holistic safety policy is an essential starting point that enables organisations to describe their standard chemical safety goals across the business clearly and succinctly. It also means that they can be transparent about objectives and strategies, and how to get there. The access permissions to the online system reflect well-defined roles, obligations and competency standards, ensuring that every employee understands the process from logging new inventory to creating risk assessments.
Once a universal safety policy has been drawn up, the next step is to compile an inventory of chemical products. For managers, concerned with running their departments successfully, a digital based system makes it simple to input all chemicals, ensuring that each substance’s entry contains all the necessary information, as any gaps can be automatically flagged.
Crucially, it mean all banned or restricted substances can be quickly identified and eliminated, reducing the number of CRAs needed where substances are being used for the same job across different departments. A robust cloud-based system guarantees that each chemical product has a current SDS that is easily accessible via a user-friendly interface. This also prevents any confusion with outdated SDSs, as they can be automatically updated when changes are made, protecting staff, while speeding up administrative work and proving a best-practice proof-point to management.
The tools we need
Department managers can conveniently review the necessary controls and reinforce them across departments with a digital system. This gives them the tools to collate information and create summary reports for senior leadership, reassuring them and demonstrating compliance.
Additionally, digital chemical risk management can operate in conjunction with QR codes attached to equipment and substances, enabling frontline workers to quickly access pertinent information that will keep them safe. Ultimately, it alleviates pressure at all levels of the organisation, reassuring stakeholders that the business is operating safely, reliably and cost-effectively. It provides a one-stop comprehensive system to collate data and information, and a reporting system that is straightforward and accurate, helping workers operating with hazardous chemicals to stay safe and healthy.
Product Manager, Chemical Management