Identification of hazardous chemicals

Identification of hazardous chemicals -alasivu

Different chemicals are used at workplaces, such as detergents and solvents, oils and other liquids needed in work machines, as well as pharmaceuticals. Hazardous chemical agents such as dusts, fumes or exhaust gases can be generated in processes. Exposure to chemicals and chemical agents must always be considered as part of the assessment of workplace hazards. The chemical hazard assessment must be carried out in writing.

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

List of chemicals

A list of all chemicals used at the workplace must be compiled, in alphabetical order of the trade name, including any hazard marking of the chemical and information on which chemicals have a safety data sheet available at the workplace.

The form ‘Assessment of risks posed by chemical agents’ in Finnish (doc, xlsx) can be used to help in the assessment of chemical hazards.

The first three columns of the form (exposures) form the list of chemicals required by law.

Safety data sheet

To carry out the risk assessment, the employer receives information primarily from the safety data sheet of the chemical. All hazardous chemicals must have a safety data sheet provided by the chemical manufacturer or marketer with information on the chemical, the hazard it causes and the safe use of the chemical (e.g. necessary personal protective equipment and operating instructions for accident situations). Safety-related information on hazards and exposure management must be used to assess risks and inform employees about risks and to train them in safe working.

Example of a safety data sheet for a chemical

The list of chemicals and safety data sheets must be kept available for employees.

Chemical hazards are considered in the workplace survey

The workplace survey conducted by occupational health care must consider the health significance of chemical hazards and the health monitoring needs of those exposed to chemicals. Occupational health care can also help the employer identify chemical hazards and guide employees to safe working practices.

Those exposed to risk of cancer at work are reported to the ASA register

If employees are exposed to the risk of cancer in their work, the employer must report their data to the ASA register maintained by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

How to identify a hazardous chemical?

The employer must map all chemicals used at the workplace and assess whether they pose a risk to health or safety. A hazardous chemical can be identified by the hazard markings on the packaging.

A chemical is hazardous to health if the hazard marking on the packaging contains any of the GHS warning signs.

The hazardous nature of a chemical can also be related to flammability and explosiveness. In this case, the hazard marking on the packaging contains one of the following GHS warning pictograms:

  1. adverse effects on sexual function and fertility of adult males and females, as well as developmental disorders of offspring
  2. lethal if swallowed and inhaled
  3. causes drowsiness or dizziness
  4. explosive substances and mixtures, explosive objects and substances, mixtures and articles manufactured for detonation and pyrotechnic purposes
  5. thermally unstable liquid or solids or mixtures in which a strong heat-releasing degradation may begin even in the absence of oxygen (air)
  6. liquid or solid organic substances containing a bivalent –O-O‒ structure and which can be considered as derivatives of hydrogen peroxide in which at least one hydrogen atom has been replaced by an organic radical
  7. a single-use metal, glass or plastic cart (aerosol dispenser) containing compressed, liquefied or dissolved gas under pressure, and may also contain liquid, paste or powder; aerosol cylinders are equipped with a discharge device enabling the contents to be sprayed as solid or liquid particles, foam, paste or powder in gas suspension or in liquid or gaseous form
  8. a liquid or solid substance or mixture which, even in small quantities, ignites within five minutes after contact with air.

Pictograms are available on the Finnish version of this page.

How do you protect yourself from chemical hazards?

It is advisable to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals to as little as possible and remove unnecessary chemicals from workplace premises. If it is necessary to use hazardous chemicals at the workplace, the health of employees must be safeguarded.

Employees must be informed of the health risks associated with the handling of chemicals and instructed on the safe handling of chemicals. The storage and keeping of chemicals and the treatment of chemical waste must also be managed appropriately. In addition, employees must be instructed to act in the event of a hazard or accident. 

Employees must also be instructed to wear and maintain personal protective equipment necessary for the work. When purchasing protective equipment, it must be ensured that they are suitable for the intended use and that their protective properties are sufficient to protect against the risk posed by the chemical exposure. In addition, the employer must allocate appropriate storage facilities to personal protective equipment.