Chemical agents - Ingressi
The Finnish Government Decree on Chemical Agents at Work regulates the safe handling of chemicals and obligates employers to protect their employees against the risks posed by chemical exposure agents. In addition to chemicals, the Decree also factors in processes in which chemical exposure agents may be present as well as intermediates and their reactions.
Chemical agents - Yleistä
Chemical agents also include chemicals (substances and mixtures) that may pose a risk to employees’ health and safety due to their physico-chemical properties. Examples include highly flammable and oxidising substances that can pose a risk of fire and explosion.
Employees’ safety and health can also be compromised by incompatible substances that react with each other producing excess pressure or heat or toxic gaseous compounds. These kinds of combinations of substances include, among others, strong acids and flammable substances, oxidising and organic substances, several metals and acids. All these substances and combinations of substances are considered chemical agents.
The Government Decree obligates employers to identify any chemical risk factors present in the workplace, assess the risks posed to employees and take any necessary action to mitigate the risks. Within the meaning of the Decree, ‘risk assessment’ refers to a process of identifying the risks associated with each work task in the workplace and deciding what action needs to be taken.
Occupational safety legislation and REACH
The European REACH Regulation governs chemical substances on their own, in preparations and in articles as well as the associated risk management measures. The objective of the Regulation is to disseminate information about the implications of substances on health and safety as well as the safe handling of substances.
The REACH Regulation is directly linked to the European CLP Regulation (for “Classification, Labelling and Packaging”), which sets out risk and safety statements and hazard symbols that are important sources of information from the perspective of occupational safety and health.
The REACH Regulation also promotes replacing substances of very high concern (SVHC) by less dangerous substances, which is also a requirement of workplace laws. The use of SVHCs requires authorisation pursuant to the REACH Regulation. The aim of the authorisation requirement is to ensure that the risks from substances of very high concern are properly controlled and that these substances are progressively replaced by suitable alternative substances or technologies.
Any restrictions arising from the REACH Regulation must be stated under heading 15 in the material safety data sheet. Any markings that need to be on the label due to the restrictions must be shown under heading 2.2 in the material safety data sheet.
The REACH Regulation and occupational safety legislation complement each other. However, it is important to remember when assessing the chemical agents present in a workplace that the exposure agents the most significant from the perspective of work-related diseases, such as chemical impurities from processes (thermal decomposition products, vapour and fumes) and many kinds of dust, are not governed by the REACH Regulation. In addition, the majority of chemicals used in workplaces are mixtures, and many processes involve using several different substances or mixtures simultaneously or in succession. The REACH Regulation is unable to factor in the total exposure resulting from multiple substances.
Chemical agents - Työntekijälle
Always follow the safety instructions provided by your employer. Let your employer’s representative know about any issues immediately in accordance with the instructions provided. Your employer has a duty to tell you about the hazards associated with your work and to provide advice on how to protect yourself against them.
It is important that you protect yourself as instructed by your employer if there are dangerous chemicals present in your work environment. The effects of exposure on your health can take years to manifest and can even make you susceptible to cancer, affect your fertility or the safety of your baby while breastfeeding, or increase the risk of miscarriage.
Chemical agents - Työnantajalle
All chemicals should ideally be purchased from a single supplier. This helps to prevent the use of equivalent products for the same purpose and makes it easier to catalogue chemicals effectively.
It is also the employer’s duty to provide the workplace with up-to-date material safety data sheets and, where necessary, exposure scenarios for identifying risks associated with chemicals. The safety data sheets and scenarios must be tailored to the way in which chemicals are used in the workplace.
In addition, the employer must be aware of any dangerous substances, SVHCs or substances with sensitising properties that are handled in the workplace. These should, where possible, be replaced by less dangerous alternatives.
Risk assessments need to be updated whenever new information becomes available.
It is also the employer’s duty to ensure that all containers of dangerous substances (such as reservoirs, storage tanks, pipes and cylinders) are labelled with the product’s name and hazardous properties.
The employer must ensure that all employees have been trained to handle chemicals in a safe manner.