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23/08/2018

Control measures: STOP the risks posed by dangerous substances

When you want to control and reduce the risks posed by dangerous substances in the workplace, the most efficient and effective way is through elimination or substitution. This is at the top of a hierarchy of prevention measures set out by EU law that employers must follow. It is known as the STOP principle.

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Reducing the risks posed by dangerous substances benefits everyone. Workers will enjoy improved safety and health; while employers will find it easier to comply with legislation, and benefit from reduced costs due to less workplace absence and an enhanced reputation for their organisation.

The cleaning company ISS introduced a multifaceted approach to reduce the exposure of its workers in Sweden to chemicals during cleaning activities. They eliminated the use of chemicals when cleaning by using ‘pure water’ and a microfiber cloth. Completely eliminating the use of a dangerous substance is of course the ideal solution, but not always possible.

ISS also have strict guidelines on the selection of new chemicals and dosage. They ensure all employees are trained on the safe handling of dangerous substances. The EU’s Chemical Agents Directive (CAD) recommends following a hierarchy or ‘order of priority’ of control measures, known as the STOP principle, to prevent or reduce the exposure to dangerous substances. If complete elimination of the dangerous substance is not possible the following hierarchy should be followed:

  • Substitution – Substitution of the dangerous substance with a safer alternative.
  • Technological measures – minimising the concentration of the dangerous substance in the exposure zone.
  • Organisational measures – minimising the number of exposed workers and/or the duration and intensity of exposure.
  • Personal protective equipment – wearing protective clothing or equipment such as goggles and gloves as a barrier to exposure.

The aim of the hierarchy is to ensure that risks are tackled at the source and that measures taken protect a group of workers in a systematic way. Prevention should always come first and carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace is essential. EU-OSHA has developed an e-tool to help companies analyse their own particular needs.

LUSH manufacturing Croatia went through such a process in order to avoid using highly hazardous epoxy resins, which can lead to long-term chronic health problems in workers. After gathering information and undertaking testing a solution was found. Epoxy resins were substituted with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastics. This made the working environment safer, and as the company can recycle ABS plastic, it also reduced its production of waste.

The costs and benefits of alternative substances must always be considered as most solutions will reduce some of the risks, but not all. Only once the options of elimination and substitution have been explored should you move to the next level on the STOP hierarchy and consider other control measures.

If using hazardous chemicals is an everyday working practice, you should introduce a chemical management system. This was done at the chemistry department of Gdańsk University in order to manage, store and dispose of chemical waste generated by the University. The initiative has contributed to achieving educational goals relating to environmental protection and student safety, has helped in implementing safety standards in the laboratory, and the message has now spread to other related activities.

Many other organisations have also used substitution to make their workplaces safer. In Latvia at the Paul Stradins Hospital to reduce exposure to chemical when treating surgical instruments; in the cleaning sector to reduce exposure to chemicals in cleaning agents at SOL Baltic OÜ in Estonia; at Ursa in Slovenia to minimise exposure to formaldehyde; and in Spain to eliminate the use of carcinogenic neurotoxic solvents for tanning.

You can find out more about substitution and good practice control measures by downloading EU-OSHA’s info sheet, and by checking out the practical tools for employers section on the campaign website which also has a section on substitution. And don’t forget to follow the campaign on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).