New chemicals being introduced

Case Study: New chemicals being introduced to help develop de-greasing materials

Scenario: Trade Union reps were told two new chemicals were being introduced, the two chemicals were titled DIAMOND and PLATINUM. The reps submitted a grievance which eventually led to the both being blocked from introduction by the workforce.

The following letter was written by the GMB officer to the company reps, after a quick look at the provided data sheets, which showed there had been limited testing, and also how potentially fatal they were:

It is estimated that one in three of all occupational diseases in Europe every year are caused by exposure to workplace chemicals. The TUC Union Health and Safety specialists group, have stated that around 180,000 deaths a year in the UK are caused by cancers through workplace exposure.

There are many tens of thousands of workers who suffer from skin and breathing problems or neurological damage caused by exposure to chemicals, this is whythe GMB want to remove dangerous chemicals from use by our members and persuade employers to replace them with safe alternatives.

Has your employer carried out a risk assessment on the chemicals?

Under COSHH (step1) they need to identify the hazardous substances and consider the risks these have to peoples health (safety data sheets):

1. In respect of DIAMOND on page 8 of the Safety data Sheet, section 15.2 states that a chemical safety assessment has not been carried out on the substance or mixture by the supplier.

In section 10.4 it suggests it should not be used where there is heat. If combustion occurs it will give off toxic fumes.

Among the ‘other information’ contained in the sheet it lists phrases including:

· fatal if inhaled

· toxic if swallowed

· causes severe burns and serious eye damage

· causes damage to organs

· causes skin irritation

· is suspected (as a carcinogen) of causing cancer

It does suggest that the hazard is not caused if there are no routes of exposure. This in itself does not fill me with any confidence.

2. In respect of the Safety Data Sheet for the chemical listed as PLATINUM, it is even more alarming and a cause for concern.

It is recommended that heat should be avoided.

Adverse effects include:

· Fatal if inhaled

· Suspected of causing cancer

· Severe burns and ey damage

· Organ damage through exposure by inhalation

· It is corrosive

· Skin irritation

· It is not biodegradable which has implications for disposal

· It appears to be bio accumulative which means it can build up in your system and would not be removed from your body in the usual natural ways through excretion etc.

· There is no DNEL (derived no-effect level) available. This is defined as the level of chemical exposure above which humans should not be exposed.

This is particularly important as the company claim to have diluted the substance but will not be able to definitely state the damage that exposure could cause.

The final statement on page 10 of the Safety Data Sheet states: ‘The above information is believed to be correct, but does not purport to be all inclusive and shall on ly be used as a guide. The company shall not be held liable for any damage resulting from handling or from contact with the above product.’

All this suggests a lack of knowledge or confidence in the usage of this particular chemical. I would suggest the workforce are correct in their refusal/reluctance to use these substances.

Has the issue of ventilation and dispersal been satisfactorily dealt with?

If there is any suggestion that they are going to reject the grievance, then put in a demand for quarterly health checks for all staff and competent health monitoring installed in those areas.

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