Focus

Focus Archive

Working Safely and Healthily with Chemicals and Hazardous Substances

June 1999
Sheila Pantry, OBE

Everyone working with, and managing the use of chemicals and hazardous substances, should be aware of the dangers and long term health risks if the various chemical products are not handled properly. For a number of years, the European Commission and subsequently the UK Health and Safety Commission on behalf of the United Kingdom (UK) Government, and other countries' competent bodies have been energetic in producing legislation to control hazardous substances and chemicals.

For example in the UK The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations requires anyone intending to work with such substances to 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 Data Sheets (MSS) 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 user; 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 L 5 The 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 l995, 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 contains the full text of this publication.

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

HSELINE, produced by the UK Health and Safety Executive Information Services, is a bibliographic database which gives details of chemical and hazard substances information, including legislation, from world-wide sources. It is available 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, RILOSH from the Ryerson Technical University, Toronto, Canada. All these databases are excellent sources of chemical and hazardous substances information.

Many databases exist which will give you chemical information. Amongst those, which carry the SilverPlatter label, are:

The Chemical Hazard Response Information System (CHRIS) produced by US Coast Guard, contains emergency response and chemical handling information some hundred of chemical substances. It covers physical and chemical properties, hazards, fire hazards, chemical reactivity, water pollution, shipping and labelling requirements, Coast Guard hazard assessment codes and classification 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 data. Information is derived from a core set of standard texts and augmented with data from US Government documents, technical reports and primary journals and scientific literature. HSDB contains complete references for all data sources utilised. It is referenced and peers group-reviewed by the Scientific Review Panel (SRP), a committee of expert toxicologists and other scientists. It is updated quarterly, with new records or with fresh data added to existing records.

OHMTADS Oil and Hazardous Materials Technical Assistance Data System is 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 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 source validated information, covering over 120,000 chemicals.

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

Material Safety Data Sheets produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (MSDS-CCOHS) is also available on CD-ROM from Silverplatter. The MSDS-CCOHS file contains over 100,000 MSDS items on chemical trade products. They are contributed by manufacturers and/or distributors of chemical the CCOHS. 16% of the records are in French. The file is updated quarterly.

EINECS-Plus contains 21 databases and can be searched together or separately.

It is a multi-lingual product and contains major sources such as:

OSH-CD contains the full text of all the EU-appropriate and UK OSH legislation is another CD-ROM which was brought together to met the demands for easy accessible data. It also contains publications produced by the HSC/HSE and has a wealth of information on chemical and hazardous substances.

Please note that the validated and authoritative guidance given in the OSH-CD, can be applied to working situations anywhere in the World, regardless of the legal system employed. Other products may contain a similar amount of information but none offer such easy access to the information.

Dictionary of Substances and Their Effects (DOSE) is available online.

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?