Chemicals pose unique challenges for Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) management and compliance. Chemicals fall on a wide spectrum of hazard potential—while some are completely harmless, others may be mostly benign until placed in certain environments, and others consistently pose great risks to safety and/or human health. Combine this diversity of hazards with a complex framework for regulatory compliance, and it can be a huge headache for EHS leaders.
Whether your organization manufactures chemicals or regularly uses them in its operations, there are a few key regulations, compliance points, and other considerations to keep in mind to stay ahead of chemical compliance challenges.
The many regulations that touch upon chemical compliance fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their application to individual companies will vary depending on the chemicals and operations involved, but there are a few key regulations to remember for any organization that manufactures, handles, or disposes of chemicals.
The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS or HazCom) was created under OSHA to ensure the dissemination of important information to workers regarding chemical and toxic substance hazards in their workplaces along with associated protective measures.
Process Safety Management (PSM) of Highly Hazardous Chemicals Standard. This OSHA standard outlines the requirements for preventing or minimizing the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA governs the production, distribution, use/handling, and disposal of chemicals in the workplace. It provides EPA with the authority to review new chemicals prior to manufacture and release to the general marketplace.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This addresses the safe handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals used for pest control.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). EPCRA requires facilities to be prepared for any chemical-related emergencies, report any releases of hazardous or toxic chemicals, and inform local citizens of any releases in their area.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA governs the proper storage, transportation, and disposal of solid hazardous waste.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka Superfund) authorizes the EPA to determine the people and/or companies responsible for environmental contamination of a site and negotiate or order them to perform cleanup or pay for cleanup.
A failure to meet compliance obligations for chemical management can carry substantial costs. Beyond the financial costs of citations, fines, and penalties should an enforcement agency discover shortcomings, there are also the additional costs resulting from adverse effects to employee health, company and community safety, and the environment.
Here are common chemical compliance points that can help you reduce the risks facing your organization.
Maintain a complete and accurate chemical inventory that includes all safety data sheets (SDSs). SDSs are a cornerstone of OSHA’s HazCom Standard. Ensure they are up-to-date and easily accessible to employees, presented in a language they can understand.
Know and adhere to the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for all chemicals. The Hierarchy of Controls can be a useful tool for maintaining PELs in a workplace where employees may encounter chemical hazards. Substitute in less hazardous chemicals when possible, implement engineering or environmental controls, and ensure employees have proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last line of defense.
Train employees. Training is the root of EHS success, and chemical compliance is no exception—plus, it’s often required by law depending on the situation.
Stay on top of environmental reporting. Common filings pertaining to chemicals include Tier II and Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting.
Dispose of chemicals in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations. Proper disposal of hazardous waste—including chemicals—is critical to reduce the risk of chemical mishaps and failed inspections.
Perform regular PSM audits. If applicable, conduct a thorough PSM audit every three years with a highly skilled auditor at the helm to ensure compliance.
While some of these compliance obligations may feel burdensome, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the current chemical standards, limits, and requirements may not go far enough in order to protect health and safety. To name just a few examples:
Workers at a Goodyear plant in Niagara Falls, NY, are at an increased risk for bladder cancer from ortho-toluidine, despite the fact that their exposure to the chemical is within the PELs set by law.
The recent train derailment near East Palestine, OH, demonstrates not only the steep costs of complacency and noncompliance, but also highlights the potential for chemical safety successes to be completely negated by transportation safety failures.
Even more recently, the EPA proposed new regulations to limit per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water—a challenge for all involved, as PFAS are notoriously difficult to get rid of yet are also commonly found in a variety of consumer goods.
These developments illustrate the necessity for organizations in the chemical industry to consider structuring their EHS initiatives to not merely maintain compliance, but go beyond compliance—sometimes, far beyond.
This can be difficult without guiding standards—but there are programs in place to help EHS leaders. The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care® program is one such option. The program is mandatory for all ACC members as well as Responsible Care Partner companies, with the aim of driving greater EHS performance in the chemical industry through tracking, transparent reporting, and third-party auditing.
Given all the intricacies of chemical management, maintaining compliance can be a tricky endeavor. Even with encyclopedic knowledge, a sharp memory, and years of experience, EHS managers will always face uncertainty in an ever-evolving regulatory landscape. That’s why it’s important to leverage technology whenever possible to find efficiencies, stay informed, and act quickly (both reactively and proactively) in order to keep your company, employees, and the environment safe and healthy.
Dakota Software has a long history of helping chemical companies, large and small, in understanding and addressing their chemical compliance challenges. From regulatory analysis to best practices in PSM to training modules, Dakota pairs its customers with solutions tailored to their unique organizational needs. For ACC members required to comply with RCMS® or ISO14001 specification to maintain their ACC membership, or any facility interested in a framework for developing and implementing an EHS and Security management systems, Dakota’s Responsible Care Management System module can be used to assess EHS and Security management systems and combined with the increased documentation and rigorous auditing requirements of ISO 14001.
View our demo library to see all the ways our EHS compliance management products can help.