The importance of hazard communication for chemicals
In the chemical industry, it is easy to take hazard communication for chemicals for granted.
We are so used to seeing correctly labelled packages, and receiving Safety Data Sheets for every chemical we use, whether hazardous or not, that we can become a bit “blind” to their importance.
The further away from the chemical manufacturer and formulators a product gets, the less information end users tend to have, and ultimately consumers will only have a product label to help them identify the hazards, and use the product safely.
Our job, as people compiling labels and safety data sheets, is to do our very best to communicate the hazards of the substances, mixtures and articles we sell, so that the end users can use them safely, and respond correctly if an incident occurs.
It is all very well hiding behind the strict requirements of the various pieces of legislation and guidance to meet the legal requirements for hazard communication, but this may not always work, particularly when there are numerous ambiguities and uncertainties in the legislation.
Leaving the legal demands on one side, we have a moral duty to our end users, as human beings, to protect them through communicating the hazards of products as accurately as possible.
We need to recognise that if we get hazard communication wrong, people may die, or be seriously injured, and take responsibility for doing as good a job as we possibly can. (If you don’t think this is a realistic scenario, have a look at this tragic case: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/4/e1039 ).
To do that, we need to put ourselves in the position of our end users, and make sure that they have all of the information they need to protect themselves and those around them.
A useful way to do this is to ask – would I be happy for my son/ daughter/ nephew/ niece / elderly relative to use this product, based on the labelling (or SDS information)?
Imagining someone we love, who doesn’t have our level of knowledge, using a product, will help us decide on the level of information we want to include.
Anyone responsible for classifying and labelling chemicals, and writing Safety Data Sheets, is doing a very important and responsible job, in allowing these products to be used as safely as possible. By remembering that we have a moral obligation towards the end users of our products, we will be able to do this job to the best of our abilities.