Taking a Global Approach to Chemical Management: Frameworks, Difficulties and Best Practices

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September 23, 2023

Chemical management is a complex field. Companies seeking to excel in regulatory compliance must keep track of the production, importation, use and disposal of chemicals in their products in order to protect workers and customers from potential harm. Specifically, companies should be aware of the many international frameworks in place and must be ready to overcome difficulties that arise. 

International frameworks for chemical management  

There are several international organizations and agreements that regulate chemicals on a global scale. The United Nations, through its agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), plays a leading role in setting standards and guidelines for chemical management. The European Union (EU) has, for quite some time, implemented a comprehensive chemical management framework with a regulation known as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also plays a role in promoting the safe use and management of chemicals through its member countries. 

These global chemical management frameworks are based on key principles and approaches such as:  

Risk assessment involves evaluating the potential risks of a chemical based on available data on its properties and uses. Hazard classification involves categorizing chemicals based on their potential to cause harm, using standardized criteria and symbols. Labeling is the process of providing information about the hazards and safe use of a chemical through labels and safety data sheets. 

Difficulties encountered 

Despite the fact that there are many international frameworks to draw upon, there are several challenges that arise for companies looking to comply with regulations.  

One major challenge is the lack of harmonization among different frameworks and countries. This can create confusion and inconsistency in the regulation of chemicals and make it difficult for companies to comply with multiple regulations at the same time.  

Another challenge is the limited data available on the hazards and risks of many chemicals. Many chemicals have not been adequately tested for their potential impacts, making it difficult to assess their inherent risks. Additionally, there are often limited resources available for implementing and enforcing chemical regulations, particularly where companies have facilities in developing countries.  

Best practices to consider 

To address these challenges and improve chemical management, there are several best practices that can be followed. There are three highlighted below: 

  1. One key practice is to take a preventative approach to chemical management. Knowing which chemicals are in your products and the regulations that you need to comply with is the baseline. It is also important to understand the entire product lifecycle and where the chemicals in your products ultimately end up. With more companies embracing concepts of environmental, social, and governance (ESG), the substitution of chemicals with safer alternatives is a wise choice whenever possible.
  2. Another best practice is to use available, and reliable, hazard and risk assessment tools and to ensure that your environmental, health and safety (EHS) content providers give you the necessary information to successfully use these tools.  
  3. Finally, it is best to promote a workplace culture of transparency to ensure that the concerns and interests of all stakeholders are taken into account. This can take the form of creating cross-team workgroups to discuss each team’s part of the product creation process and how the chemicals are used at each phase of production. 

Thus, future corporate efforts should focus on complying with applicable international frameworks and standards, minimizing risk and replacing harmful chemicals with “greener” alternatives where possible. In a complex, scientifically driven field such as this one, companies that make, import, sell and dispose of products with regulated chemicals would be wise to create best practices such as the ones above that will benefit their global business and help to keep workers and customers safe. 

Check our 3E Regulatory Compliance Tracker for frequent updates on key product safety and chemical compliance regulations, requirements and deadlines. Bookmark this free tool today!