2. Use of safer chemicals

‘Meeting the Challenge’ on use of safer chemicals

The electronics industry (brands, manufacturers and suppliers) and governments of countries where production occurs will reduce hazardous exposures by eliminating or substituting the most hazardous substances and most hazardous production processes, i.e. those processes where exposure to multiple hazardous chemicals occurs and particularly where women of childbearing age represent the majority of the workforce.

This priority activity covers substances brought into the production process, created during production and substances that remain in the product and become problematic when the product is used, recycled or disposed of.

This action can be accomplished by assessing hazardous materials used in manufacturing throughout the product lifecycle and replacing them with safer alternatives wherever possible, as described below:

  1. Conduct alternative assessments: The brands and chemical suppliers, with full participation by trade unions representing their workers (or workers’ representatives freely chosen by them if no trade union exists), shall conduct ongoing alternative assessments of chemicals of concern and hazardous materials used in products and in production. Assessment, including potential non-chemical-based alternatives, will be used to implement green design alternatives and to select safer substitutes for hazardous materials used in production. Assessment processes acceptable to all parties will be the basis for informed substitution where safer alternatives exist, or for innovation in new formulations and materials, or for product redesign. These assessments are best led by workplace Joint Health and Safety Committees or, where none exist, with the full participation of those who face the risks.
  2. Choose safer substitutes: When reducing the use of substances of concern, companies shall select substitutes that are inherently safer than the substances they replace. Substitutes include safer chemicals, materials and products as well as eliminating the need for the chemicals in the first place. Brands must integrate these principles into their corporate chemicals policy.
  3. Consider a broad range of hazardous properties: Chemicals proposed as safer substitutes must be significantly less hazardous than those they replace. This means they should be significantly less toxic, persistent, bio accumulative or bio concentrating, carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic, endocrine disrupting or hazardous to reproduction and development, etc. than the chemicals they replace. Industry lists of preferred chemicals will be subject to periodic review with the full participation of trade unions or workers’ representatives, where no unions exist.
  4. Research safer substitutes: The brands and chemical suppliers shall develop safer substitutes and safer production processes in all cases, prioritising those where none currently are known. Robust, innovative, independent and transparent research is needed.
  5. Use the same, highest standards worldwide: Hazardous chemicals and processes that are no longer used in developed countries are often still in use in developing countries. Environmentally harmful technologies or products that cause severe environmental degradation or are harmful to human health shall not be transferred to other countries. Prohibited processes or products must never be used anywhere in the supply chain.
  6. Follow hierarchy of controls to prevent exposure: Where knowledge does not currently permit production risks to be eliminated by substitution, the brands will ensure that risk is reduced to a minimum by application of preventive measures and exposure controls. These include, in order of priority:
  7. Engineering controls and use of inherently safer equipment and materials to avoid or minimise the release of hazardous substances that may present a risk to the safety and health of workers and the community.
  8. Protective measures applied at the source or as close as possible to the risk, such as adequate local ventilation, barriers and/or appropriate work procedures and organisational measures.
  9. Application of individual protection measures as a last resort where exposure cannot be prevented by other means, including personal protective equipment, provided free of charge and replaced regularly by the employer.
  10. Where the environmental or human health effects of a substance are unknown, its use shall be avoided; where it is inadequately or incompletely characterised, the precautionary principle shall apply until all relevant hazard testing is available. Where there is inadequate information available to fully assess a particular material, the company has a duty to ask the chemical manufacturer to seek additional information about potential hazards and will either avoid its use or provide workers with the best possible protection until the hazards have been clarified.
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