Green Chemistry Principle #12

Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention

Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.

Contributed by Shelly Bradley, Campus Chemical Compliance Director, Hendrix College; Dr. David C. Finster, Professor of Chemistry, Wittenberg University; and Dr. Tom Goodwin, Elbert L. Fausett Professor of Chemistry, Hendrix College

Safety can be defined as the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk. Green Chemistry Principle # 12 is known as the “Safety Principle”. It may be the most overlooked of the twelve principles, yet it is the logical outcome of many of the other principles. In fact it is practically impossible to achieve the goals of Principle 12 without the implementation of at least one of the others. Since the very essence of green chemistry is to “… reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances” there is an intrinsic connection to laboratory safety. While there are a few exceptions, the majority of the Green Chemistry Principles will result in a scenario that is also safer.

Hierarchy of Safety Controls

Under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Green Chemistry’s primary focus is clearly to make the environment safer. Materials and processes that are safer for the environment also are likely to be safer for the general public. However, another population that benefits from green chemistry and is not often mentioned is workers. The manufacturing or laboratory worker is often the first in-line person to benefit from hazard reductions.

The health and safety of workers are under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In a recent news release, OSHA unveiled a chemical management system designed to increase worker safety. The Hierarchy of Safety Controls as highlighted in OSHA’s new Transitioning to Safer Chemicals Toolkit illustrates the difference between focusing on the control or hazard part of the safety definition. Traditional chemical safety models focus primarily on the control component of that definition. The graphic (adapted from OSHA) shows that the most effective means of increasing safety is eliminating the hazard component. Since the elimination of hazards is the basic tenet of Green Chemistry, this marriage of the ideas of Green Chemistry from both OSHA and EPA should have a synergistic impact on hazard reduction. Combining the forces of these two agencies toward a common goal may lead to conversations and changes that result in safer conditions for workers, a safer environment for the general public, and a safer planet for us all.

References Cited:

Manuele, F. A. Acceptable Risk, Professional Safety, 2010, 30-38 (accessed 11/22/2013)

Anastas, P. T.; Warner, J. C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice; Oxford University Press; New York, 1998.

US OSHA, OSHA releases new resources to better protect workers from hazardous chemicals, (accessed 11/22/2013)

US OSHA, Transitioning to Safer Chemicals: A Toolkit for Employers and Workers, (accessed 11/22/2013)

US OSHA, Why Transition to Safer Alternatives?, (accessed 11/22/2013)