Risk management of chemical agents - Yleistä

Depending on the industry and work, the employee may be exposed to various chemical agents at the workplace. The employer must manage the risks arising from the use of hazardous substances so that the health and safety of employees is not affected. Health effects can range from mild eye or skin irritation to asthma, reproductive disorders, congenital defects and cancer.

The form ‘Assessment of risks posed by chemical agents’ in Finnish (doc, xlsx) can be used to help list chemical agents in small workplaces with low chemical exposures. The first three columns of the form, exposures, form the list of chemicals required by law. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health's broader operating model ‘Assessment of chemical risks at the workplace’ (doc, in Finnish) is suitable for a workplace that uses more chemicals.

The law requires the employer to take care of the following:

  • list of chemicals
  • safety data sheets on hazardous chemicals
  • risk assessment of chemical agents
  • report persons exposed to risk of cancer at work to the ASA register
  • consider chemical agents in a workplace survey carried out by occupational health care.

List of chemicals

A list of all chemicals in use at the workplace must be drawn up. The list, compiled according to trade name, includes classification information for chemicals (information indicating hazard or harm) and information on whether a safety data sheet is available for the chemical, for example by recording the date of the safety data sheet.

The safe use of chemicals at the workplace requires that, in connection with the listing of chemicals, it is also examined which hazardous chemical agents are present at the workplace or are generated in the course of work. These include dusts, solvent vapours and any emissions from processes.

Safety data sheet

The safety data sheet is a document that provides information on the properties, hazards and safe storage and handling of a chemical in industrial or professional activities. Safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals used at the workplace are an important source for employers in identifying related hazards, assessing risks and solving how chemicals are handled safely. A hazardous chemical has a warning sign. The employer must ensure that safety data sheets are also available for employees to view.

The safety data sheet is prepared by the chemical manufacturer, importer, distributor or other operator responsible for placing the hazardous chemical on the EU market. It must be delivered in the official languages of the Member State in which the substance or mixture is placed on the market (Finnish and Swedish in Finland). The safety data sheet transmits information on the chemical down the supply chain so that downstream users can take the necessary measures to protect human safety and the environment.

Delivery of the safety data sheet to the recipient

The chemical supplier is obliged to deliver the safety data sheet to the recipient of the chemical. It must be delivered free of charge to the recipient of the chemical in paper form or electronically no later than the date on which the substance or mixture is first delivered. The delivery obligation is not fulfilled by an email with a link to a general website where the safety data sheet or its latest updated version must be searched and downloaded. Moreover, it is not sufficient to publish the safety data sheet or its updated version on a website where it is passively available or to distribute it only on a separate request.

No new copies of the safety data sheet need be delivered to the same recipient in connection with subsequent deliveries unless the safety data sheet has been changed. If the safety data sheet has been updated, the renewed safety data sheet must be delivered to anyone who has received the chemical in the previous 12 months.

Risk assessment

The employer must identify the hazards posed by chemical agents at work and assess the risks they present to the safety and health of employees. The risk assessment of chemical agents must be in written form.

The following issues are considered in the risk assessment:

  • chemicals in use at the workplace
  • chemical agents, such as dusts, fumes and exhaust gases, generated at work or in production
  • information on where the chemical substance is used (description of work, process and product)
  • information on how the substance is used (exposure phases, what harms the substances or process impurities can cause and how)
  • information on local and general air conditioning of the workplace and its effectiveness
  • assessment of the level of exposure to substances (type, intensity, duration, recurrence and prevalence of exposure to employees, including the combined effects of substances used together)
  • information on whether work air pollutant measurements or biological exposure measurements must be carried out to determine the level of exposure.

In the risk assessment, it is essential to assess the quantitative or qualitative magnitude of the risk. It is the product of hazard and probability (hazard x probability = risk). The risk assessment must show which chemicals or chemical agents pose the greatest risks to the health and safety of employees. At the workplace, efforts must be made to reduce risks so that work can be done safely. Chemicals with the greatest risks should be processed first.

Risk prevention

Efforts should be made to reduce or, at best, eliminate the risks posed by chemical agents, as well as other workplace risks.

The primary method is substitution: a hazardous substance or process is replaced by a harmless or less hazardous chemical or process. In particular, carcinogenic and mutagenic substances must be replaced where technically possible. When considering changing a hazardous process, it is necessary to consider whether the process can be replaced with another process that does not generate dust, vapours or gases, or whether the process is necessary, or whether it could be abandoned and premixed products could be acquired, for example.

If the use of a hazardous substance cannot be discontinued or replaced, the employer must determine what different means, such as the design of safe working methods or technical measures, can reduce the risk. The best way to combat exposure is to control emissions at source.

Systematically prevent emissions by doing the following:

  • change work processes, such as avoid work phases that generate vapours, dust and aerosols
  • use substances in a less dangerous form, e.g. granules and pastes instead of powders and liquids
  • use closed systems
  • combat exposure through effective insulation, general ventilation, local exhaust ventilation, fume hoods, splash shields and other workplace arrangements
  • draw up a maintenance and cleaning plan defining maintenance intervals, cleaning methods and equipment, such as wet methods or vacuum cleaners instead of brushes.

In addition to other combat measures, personal protective equipment must be used, where appropriate, where exposure is unavoidable; the protective equipment must comply with EU regulations.

Risk management of chemical agents - Muualla verkossa