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Posted On: Jul. 19, 1998 12:00 AM CST

LONDON -- The U.K. Health & Safety Executive has issued a set of risk management guidelines to help companies better control health risks arising from the use of hazardous chemicals.

It is the first time the government-run HSE has issued generic risk management guidance on chemicals.

The guidelines, currently in draft form, are targeted at small enterprises, or those without full-time health and safety or risk management staff. Those companies tend not to have formal risk management or safety guidelines.

The HSE said there have been requests from small companies for guidance to help them comply with health and safety regulations. The HSE said such companies need particular help to better control health risks -- such as respiratory disease, skin disease and cancer -- that emanate from the use of hazardous chemicals.

Chemical suppliers and trade union health and safety representatives will also be encouraged to consult the guidelines to help companies using chemicals identify the controls needed to reduce their health risks.

The draft guidelines are open to comment until Sept. 11. The final guidance package is expected to be issued in spring 1999.

The guidelines are not enforceable by law but are designed to assist companies to comply with health and safety regulations.

Jeanie Cruickshank, head of the HSE's chemical policy division, said the HSE has recognized that many small companies need practical help in reducing health risks associated with the use of chemicals in the workplace.

Therefore, the guidelines are presented in a simple, non-technical format. They do not mention insurance or risk transfer.

"The guidance is intended to help firms easily complete risk assessments and put the adequate controls in place," Ms. Cruickshank said.

The HSE guidelines initially ask companies to examine two key factors that determine the risk to employee health from hazardous chemicals: how harmful the substance is and how much of it is likely to be inhaled or come in contact with the skin or eyes of employees -- this, in turn, depends on the dustiness or volatility of the substance.

The HSE recommends that companies investigate whether they can reduce their risks by using less-hazardous substances.

Companies also are encouraged to examine whether they can reduce their risks by cutting down on the dustiness or volatility of the chemicals used. This could include replacing a fine powder with granules or pellets, or using liquids with lower process temperatures or boiling points.

The guidelines identify four key control areas that must be managed:

General ventilation.

Engineering control.

Containment and enclosure of chemicals.

Special controls that require more specific and specialized advice.

The guidelines then recommend that each control area be subject to a step-by-step risk assessment based on:

Access, including restricting access to certain working areas.

Engineering control, including monitoring dusts, vapors, air supply, discharges and containment systems.

Maintenance that ensures all equipment is in good working order.

Examination and testing, including visually inspecting all equipment at least once a week, testing against performance standards every 14 months, and keeping records of all tests for at least five years.

Cleaning and housekeeping, including cleaning work areas daily, dealing with spillages immediately, safely disposing of packages and containers, and putting lids on containers immediately after use.

Selecting personal protective equipment and ensuring it is kept clean and replaced when necessary.

Employee training, including informing employees of the harmful nature of substances, and training employees to handle the materials safely.

Supervision, including a system to check that all control measures are in place and being followed.

To comment on the guidelines, contact Rachel Russell, Health Directorate, Chemicals Policy Division, Health & Safety Executive, Sixth Floor, South Wing, Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London, U.K. SE1.