Kami Blake of 3E Company looks at the issue in managing EH&S data in the chemicals industry
As regulations increase in number, scope and complexity, environmental, health and safety (EH&S) compliance is fast becoming a major concern that spans virtually every industry. All companies are increasingly affected by and subject to more stringent EH&S regulations and are being faced with the challenges associated with risk and compliance management, including the safe and proper management and handling of hazardous materials.
A strong commitment to chemical compliance is critical. The cost of non-compliance is no longer limited to just fines and penalties, nor is the focus only on the workplace safety of affected employees.
Increasingly, compliance and risk are also associated with brand, image and, in the end, customer loyalty, supported by performance and trust. Taking a full life-cycle management (LCM) approach to compliance can help to mitigate these risks and strengthen product stewardship initiatives throughout the supply chain.
Essential EH&S information
Timely access to accurate EH&S information is one of the most critical components of your company’s EH&S foundation. Access to a broad range of information is required, including: regionally applicable regulatory lists and textual references (workplace and community safety, environmental permits and reporting, transportation of dangerous goods); substance, raw material, intermediate and product data (chemical and physical properties, hazard classifications; exposure standards, tox, ecotox and biomedical effects and safety and handling information); and, organisational data (site-specific inventory of hazardous materials with quantity and usage data).
To achieve compliance objectives, an accurate, up-to-date chemical inventory is essential. A comprehensive inventory often forms the cornerstone of a successful EH&S compliance and sustainability programme. A current and accurate inventory integrated with substance-level, product-specific, regulatory data will assist with addressing the following questions:
- Are all regulated materials properly identified?
- Are the necessary data and documents (for regulated materials) readily accessible, as required?
- Are product-level physical and health hazards in the properly identified?
- Are your employees trained on the HazCom Standard and/or its equivalents outside the US to include the proper storage, segregation, handling and labelling of hazardous substances?
- Are your employees trained on and protected in the workplace through the use of proper personal protective equipment?
- Are incident management protocols and procedures in place to manage chemical exposures and/or releases?
- Is enforceable exposure limit data readily available at the employee level and professional safety staff responsible for administrative and engineering controls?
- For those hazardous substances that require distribution or transport, is the expertise and data readily available to comply with applicable shipping regulations?
- Can regulated materials (at an ingredient level) be quickly cross-referenced with regulated materials lists to determine compliance requirements?
- Is quantity and usage information aggregated so as to determine threshold quantities easily?
- What is the process for managing hazardous waste that results from internal processes, chemical spills and unused, damaged or obsolete products?
- Are greener (less toxic, more environmentally friendly and/or less regulated) material alternatives analysed to meet corporate sustainability objectives?
Taking a life-cycle approach
To optimise stewardship initiatives throughout the supply chain, it is essential to take a full LCM approach to managing hazardous chemicals. The following are the key product safety and compliance considerations during each phase of the chemical life-cycle.
At the beginning of the R&D process, access to the latest regulatory data is critical. As new products are developed and formulations are determined, it is essential to know if the proposed ingredients are approved for use in their target markets.
During manufacture, manufacturers must first and foremost ensure the safety of their own employees and the safety of their products. They are also tasked with providing accurate and reliable information to downstream customers.
To facilitate the exchange of accurate information, once a new product is produced, the manufacturer must create a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to help distributors to support the regulatory requirements of their markets and fulfill HazCom and/or equivalent requirements. Manufacturers also need to ensure that MSDSs are sent to customers in accordance with the regulatory requirements for the jurisdictions in which sales are made.
During the distribution phase, it is recommended that distributors consult their product lists and sales records to ensure that new or updated MSDSs are distributed appropriately to end-users. New MSDSs must be distributed (by mail, e-mail or fax) to customers upon sale and again when any changes are made.
During transportation, a manufacturer must ensure that shipments of their products are properly packaged, marked, and labelled according to its mode of shipment. It is important to have a clear understanding of the regulations of the countries through which each shipment passes as well.
For example, the US Department of Transportation requires that all hazardous materials or dangerous goods for transport be appropriately classified, packaged, marked, labelled, placarded and shipped with proper documentation. Failing to comply can result in civil penalties and fines of up to US$55,000 per incident per day.
Once a product is received by the customer and is in use on site, a different set of requirements apply. The employer must provide MSDSs and training to its employees and report on usage to regulatory agencies.
When a company uses hazardous materials, there is the possibility of a chemical spill. Whilst regulations require employees to be trained to manage chemical spills properly, it is the responsibility of an owner to keep employees safe when doing so. Companies can better prepare for a chemical spill and increase the safety of employees during an incident by providing potential first responders with basic information on recognising different types of spills and how to respond.
At the very end of the life-cycle, or disposal, outdated and spilled material must be disposed of according to regulations. One of the critical components of a successful hazardous waste management programme is accurately and consistently identifying and classifying items regulated as hazardous waste that require disposal.
Once the hazardous waste items have been identified, processes can be established to ensure the proper handling, storage, and disposal of these materials. A comprehensive review of the manufacturer’s MSDSs as well as the applicable waste codes and descriptions for a customer’s products will help classify hazardous waste.
Life cycle management benefits
Taking a lifecycle approach to compliance and chemical management can result in improved product stewardship with the ability to react to and manage the impact of regulatory changes and support customer enquiries with required and requested product information. Additional benefits include:
- Consistency of process, especially with regard to data and document management, site-to-site or department-to-department and QMS-compliant
- Ensuring leverageable data that supports corporate EH&S objectives, internal operations, external data requirements, regulatory compliance and workplace and community safety
- Significant cost control & reduction, as effective LCM eliminates duplicate sources of information and increases efficiencies across supply chain
- Efficient change management, in which users can leverage a single change to all affected stakeholders and track changes to regulations, processes and protocols
- Improved quality through automation and error proofing; this also results in more accurate and current data and simplifies process documentation
- Reduced impact of the human capital shortage as LCM reduces dependence on tribal knowledge, lessens the impact of an aging EH&S workforce and allows EH&S professionals to focus on technical, compliance and regulatory issues vs. data and document management
Simplify the process
Most companies have limited staff resources to dedicate to EH&S responsibilities and are unable to ensure chemical safety and regulatory compliance throughout the product lifecycle. Maintaining an accurate inventory at all times is, by itself, a very challenging task.
For many regulatory challenges involving hazardous material management, working with a third party provider can greatly simplify the process and facilitate compliance. This works in two ways. It helps the company focus on the broader and more strategic compliance initiatives as the outsourced vendor takes the lead on data collection and management, regulatory research and administrative compliance tasks.
Your vendor should be able to provide electronic access to organisational, product/substance and regulatory data, as well as analyse this data to provide information not readily available on product MSDS. This will enable professional EH&S staff to evaluate all required information instead of collecting, assembling, storing, cross-referencing and retrieving data, as required.
When considering outsourcing, companies should look for an experienced vendor with deep EHS knowledge and expertise, as well as one who understands the intricacies of all phases of the product lifecycle.