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Working with the European Chemicals Agency to promote the management of dangerous substances at work

EU-OSHA and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) work as partners to promote good practices and encourage the management of dangerous substances at workplaces. ECHA’s tools and information are a vital resource in the context of the Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances campaign.

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A partnership aimed at the protection of workers

Since according to its company survey 38% of European companies report using potentially dangerous chemical or biological substances in their workplaces, EU-OSHA has formed a key partnership with ECHA. As the primary body responsible for implementing the EU’s chemical legislation, the mission of ECHA is to work for the safe use of chemicals together with partners serving a wide range of EU policies and global initiatives. In 2010, the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding which formed the blueprint of their working relationship. It states that it is in the interests of both agencies to cooperate closely and spread the message of protection against chemicals to as wide an audience as possible.

As part of this cooperation, ECHA have promoted through its channels EU-OSHA’s Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances campaign, which aims to highlight the health risks of exposure to chemicals and other substances in the workplace. Similarly, EU-OSHA has presented the campaign on ECHA’s Chemicals in our Life website and their events. Chemicals in our Life aims to inform the public about the presence of chemicals in everyday objects such as electronics, clothes and biocides. It features a dedicated section on keeping safe at work.

Together, the agencies exchange information, organise events, for example a meeting of the Network of REACH Socio Economic Analysis and Analysis of Alternatives Practitioners (NeRSAP), in Bilbao. In addition, the agencies cooperate to promote material that encourages good practices and a culture of prevention in the workplace.

Raising awareness of nanomaterials

One example of the shared interests of EU-OSHA and ECHA can be found in the field of nanomaterials. The knowledge of exposure to substances containing nanomaterials in the workplace is rapidly evolving, so the topic is an ideal space for the two agencies to collaborate.

EU-OSHA, has recently published an updated info sheet providing guidance to minimising exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace. People who work with substances that contain nanomaterials can also consult EU-OSHA’s dedicated website on the topic for research, good practice examples and guidance. EU-OSHA is also referenced in the European Observatory for Nanomaterials, which is hosted by ECHA. ECHA, on the other hand, have been gathering information on the toxicology of nanomaterials and providing advice to companies required by law to register their substances, including when they are provided in the nanoform. A Nanomaterials Expert Group was also established by ECHA to help address these issues and close knowledge gaps.

Complementary regulations

Synergies between the two agencies have been developed around workplace and chemicals legislation. The EU occupational safety and health legislation has a specific focus on protecting workers from dangerous substances. Workplace risk assessment is the foundation of this legislation and is a legal requirement of all employers if dangerous substances are present in their workplace. Employers must also follow a specific hierarchy of prevention measures: elimination, substitution, technological and organisational measures and, finally, personal protective measures.

Two key pieces of chemicals legislation, namely REACH (regulation for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) and CLP (regulation for Classification, Labelling and Packaging) provide clarity on the chemicals manufactured and used in Europe, with the aim of protecting human and environmental health. Chemicals must be registered with ECHA and information on their properties, hazards and conditions for safe use must be provided. Chemicals also have to be classified according to CLP and they may carry risk symbols. The suppliers have to provide safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical they provide to their customers. Safety data sheet and annexed exposure scenarios contain information on substance properties, hazards, storage and handling precautions, appropriate risk prevention measures and uses advised against and support the employer's workplace risk assessment.

The EU-OSHA national focal points who implement the Healthy Workplaces Campaign cooperate with the ECHA National Helpdesks, the first point of contact for questions about implementing REACH or CLP legislation.

More information on the use of REACH and CLP information at workplaces can be found on OSHWiki and through EU-OSHA’s E-fact.

Cooperation in the future

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank ECHA for its effective partnership in the frame of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign. Together we can join our efforts and have more impact when raising awareness. We look forward to another successful year of the campaign together, both using the full reach of our networks to spread good practice on how to handle chemicals safely in the workplace.

For more information on the work of ECHA, visit their website and the downstream user section. To keep up to date with the latest Healthy Workplaces Campaign news, follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).