Focus Archive

Chemicals and Hazardous Substances

September 1996
Sheila Pantry, OBE

For a number of years, the European Commission and subsequently the UK Health and Safety Commission on behalf of the United Kingdom (UK) Government has been extremely energetic in producing legislation to control hazardous substances and chemicals and to lay down detailed arrangements for the system for specific information relating to dangerous preparations.

Since the enactment of the UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, anyone intending to work with such substances must carry out a risk assessment before beginning work. To do this effectively, it is necessary to know about the hazards associated with the substances being used; manufacturers are obliged by law to produce Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) which give essential information about their products.

Legislation, guidance and advice, leaflets, codes of practice, articles in various journals abound, and the occupational safety and health information seeker will need to be aware of the latest amendments and have up-to-date knowledge. Chemical and substances users, manufacturers and suppliers will all need to have knowledge of such information.

One of the easiest ways of accessing all this data is to use the many computerised sources which now exist. For example, if you wanted to know about L5 Control of substances hazardous to health and control of carcinogenic substances and biological agents, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994, Approved codes of practice 1995, published by HSE Books (ISBN 0 7176 0819 0) you could check in HSELINE, the bibliographic database which is on OSH-ROM compact disc, or go to OSH-CD which has the full text of this publication.

If you wanted Why do I need a Safety Data Sheet, HSE Books, IND(G) 182 L, ISBN 07176 0895 6, the same sources would give you the answer.


HSELINE, produced by the UK Health and Safety Executive Information Services is an online bibliographic database which I initiated. It gives details of chemical and hazardous substances information, including legislation, from world-wide sources. It is available online through three host services and also on SilverPlatter's OSH-ROM CD-ROM alongside NIOSHTIC from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and CISDOC from the International Labour Office, Health and Safety Centre, and MHIDAS from the UK AEA Technology. All these four databases are excellent sources of chemical and hazardous substances information.

Many databases exist which will give you chemical information. Amongst those published by SilverPlatter are as follows.

The Chemical Hazard Response Information System (CHRIS) produced by the US Coast Guard, available on CIS, Tel: +44 (0) 1625 876711 CHRIS, provided by the US Coast Guard, contains emergency response and chemical handling information for some hundred of chemical substances. It covers physical and chemical properties, health hazards, fire hazards, chemical reactivity, water pollution, shipping and labelling requirements, Coast Guard hazard assessment codes and classifications, responses and first aid information.

Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) produced by the US Library of Medicine (NLM), HSDB is a comprehensive, scientifically-reviewed, factual database taken from the Toxicology Information Program of the NLM and focusing on the toxicology of approximately 4300 potentially hazardous chemicals. It includes data from areas such as human and animal toxicity, environmental fate, human exposure, detection methods, and US regulatory requirements as well as detailed chemical information.

Information is derived from a core set of standard texts and augmented with data from USGovernment documents, technical reports and primary journal literature. HSDB contains complete references for all data sources utilised. It is fully referenced and peer group-reviewed by the Scientific Review Panel (SRP), a committee of expert toxicologists and other scientists. It is updated quarterly, either with new records or with fresh data added to existing records.

OHMTADS Oil and Hazardous Materials Technical Assistance Data System produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This provides the necessary technical support for the assessment of potential or actual dangers encountered as a result of the discharge of oil or hazardous substances. OHMTADS contains data on any material designated as oil or hazardous material by the EPA taken from open literature.

There are over 4000 substances covered by the system. While the primary function of this database is to provide information to emergency response personnel, it can be regarded as a general source of diverse information on hazardous substances. OHMTADS data is gathered from the open literature.

RTECS - the Registry of Toxic Effects for Chemical Substances from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is a well respected sources of validated information, covering over 120,000 chemicals.

CHEM-BANK which contains IRIS, RTECS, HSDB, OMHTADS and CHRIS databases is available from SilverPlatter on CD-ROM.

Material Safety Data Sheets produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (MSDS-CCOHS) is also available on the MSDS CD-ROM from SilverPlatter. The MSDS-CCOHS file contains over 80,000 MSDS items on chemical trade name products. They are contributed by manufacturers and/or distributors of chemicals to the CCOHS. 16% of the records are in French. The file is updated quarterly.

Many of the chemical suppliers have their data on CD-ROM, and some such as Bretherick's Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards are referenced in HSELINE and is also available on floppy disk, and lists over 4600 different elements and compounds.

EINECS-Plus CD, which contains three chemical databases:

OSH-CD contains the full text of all OSH legislation which are the responsibility of the UK Health and Safety Executive and Commission, is another CD-ROM which I brought together to met the demands for easy accessible data. It also contains all the publications produced by the HSC/HSE and has a wealth of information on chemicals and hazardous substances. It also has the EU-appropriate legislation, and is available from SilverPlatter.

Dictionary of substances and their effects (DOSE) ISBN 085 186 381 7 edited by M Richardson, from the UK Royal Society of Chemistry is in print format a multi-volume dictionary, is now available Online.

These are just a few of the many hundreds of good, validated and authoritative chemical and hazardous substances sources available. But the ever-growing list of sources on the Internet is making life easier for everyone who seeks such information. Look at our list of links to see the various sites for yourself!

The products mentioned in this article are available for a free trial. Why not try these for yourself and check out the contents of these exciting sources of information against your own workplace needs?