As the amount of regulations increase worldwide, companies are being held increasingly responsible for the safety of products they manufacture and/or use in the workplace. Recent trends indicate that environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance is quickly becoming a more crucial piece in companies’ overall compliance and sustainability strategies. Not everyone is aware, however, that EHS compliance is required at multiple steps throughout the lifecycle of a product containing hazardous materials or chemicals, including during research and development, testing, manufacturing, transportation, usage and disposal.

Understanding the challenges related to EHS compliance throughout the various stages of the chemical lifecycle, followed by the development and adherence to a comprehensive compliance management program, is the best way for companies to avoid putting their personnel at risk for the dangers, fines and fees associated with non-compliance.

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Developing a comprehensive regulatory compliance management program can be a somewhat daunting process. There are several issues that need to be addressed prior to developing and implementing an effective program, including:

• Do you have an accurate, up-to-date hazmat inventory? This inventory becomes the foundation upon which the company manages other critical data and turns that data into knowledge on the hazards present in each of its facilities.

• Are your employees protected from, or properly trained on how to handle potentially hazardous materials in the workplace?

• What documents do you need for distribution of products containing ingredients labeled as hazmat?

• What is the best way to ship hazardous materials? How do you properly package, classify and label these materials?

• What is the impact on the environment?

• Are regulations consistent across the product’s target market? Or are there regional regulations that need to be adhered to?

OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government bodies mandate that certain standards be maintained when an organization uses, stores, transports or disposes of hazardous materials. For instance, OSHA’s hazcom standard (29 CFR) mandates that “the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are evaluated, and that information concerning their hazards is transmitted to employers and employees. This transmittal of information is to be accomplished by means of comprehensive hazard communication programs, which are to include container labeling and other forms of warning, material safety data sheets and employee training.”

Break it down
Identifying, monitoring and complying with these complex and ever-changing regulations and requirements can be overwhelming, especially when combined with the tactical and administrative tasks listed above. Identifying the individual phases of the chemical lifecycle and examining the compliance requirements specific to each phase helps ensure that compliance requirements are met throughout the entire lifecycle.

Research and development— During the research and development process, access to the latest regulatory data is critical. As new products are developed and formulations are determined, it is essential to know if proposed ingredients are approved for use in target markets. Access to current, accurate and comprehensive global regulatory data during this phase, therefore, is crucial and cannot be overstated. Having the right information saves companies the trouble of stopped shipments for not complying with a country’s specific regulatory requirements and can improve the time required to launch a new product to market.

Manufacturing— Manufacturers are especially challenged with regulatory compliance because they have complex internal and external obligations. First and foremost, manufacturers must ensure the safety of their own employees and the safety of their products. They are also tasked with providing accurate and reliable information to downstream customers. To facilitate the exchange of accurate information once a new product is produced, the manufacturer must create a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to help distributors and end-users support the regulatory requirements of their markets and fulfill hazard communication requirements. Manufacturers also need to ensure that MSDSs are sent to customers in accordance with the regulatory requirements for the jurisdictions in which sales are made.

Distribution— During distribution phase, it is recommended that distributors consult their product lists and sales records to ensure that new or updated MSDSs are distributed appropriately among end-users. New MSDSs must be distributed (by mail, e-mail or fax) to customers upon sale and again when any changes are made. This task can be especially time consuming and burdensome; outsourcing the distribution of MSDSs can result in greater cost efficiencies, increased value to downstream end-user customers, improved compliance, reduced risk and protection of the corporate brand.

Transportation— During transport, the shipper must ensure products are properly packaged, marked and labeled according to the mode of transport and the regulations of the countries through which the shipments pass. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all hazardous materials or dangerous goods for transport be appropriately classified, packaged, marked, labeled, placarded and shipped with proper documentation. Failing to comply can result in civil penalties and fines of up to $32,500 per incident, per day.

Usage— Once a product is received by the customer and used on site, a different set of requirements apply. The employer must manage an inventory of hazardous products for each facility and provide MSDSs and training to its employees. In addition, the employer is required to report on usage to various regulatory agencies.

If a company uses hazardous materials, there is also the possibility of a chemical spill. While federal regulations require employees to be trained to properly manage chemical spills, it is the responsibility of an employer to keep workers safe when doing so. Companies can better prepare for a chemical spill or other incident such as inhalation or ingestion and increase the safety of employees during an emergency by providing first responders with basic information on recognizing different types of spills and response methods.

Disposal— Outdated and spilled material must be disposed of according to regulations. One of the critical components of a successful hazardous waste management program is accurately and consistently identifying and classifying items regulated as hazardous waste should they require disposal. Once the hazardous waste items have been identified, processes can be put in place to help ensure the proper handling, storage and disposal of these materials. A comprehensive review of the manufacturer MSDSs, reviewing appropriate Federal and State-specific waste codes, and reviewing descriptions for a customer’s products, will help classify hazardous waste.

Simplify the process
Most companies have limited staff resources to dedicate to environmental, health and safety responsibilities and are unable to ensure regulatory compliance throughout the chemical lifecycle. Working with an outsourced solution provider can greatly simplify the process and facilitate compliance. When considering outsourcing, companies should look for an experienced vendor with deep EHS knowledge and expertise, as well as one who understands the intricacies of all phases of the chemical lifecycle.