Safety first with green chemistry

One of the most important parts of doing green chemistry is making the chemistry safe. Doing it safe comes in three parts: Firstly, the products that are made should be safe for the consumers. Secondly, and sadly, the neglected or less seriously taken part, is the safety of those who make these products, at any level of the production line – workers and their neighbors. Thirdly, researchers in a laboratory.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are an researcher in a lab, or may be just a college student. What will you do if sulfuric acid spills on the floor? Do you have any idea? Good if you do, but if you don’t here’s what you can do:

  • Put sand on it.
  • Collect it in a tray.
  • Add base: NaOH + H2SO4 = violent. So, we are not going to add NaOH. We’ll have to use another base, that is Na2CO3. Even better if you have CaCO3.

Safety education is very important, you see?

Who makes sure that workers are safe? Legislation and organizations do and every country has its own of doing it. Here’s a list of them:

  1. European Union: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (Read about REACH here.)
  2. UK: Health and Safety Executive and local authorities (the local council) under theHealth and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  3. Denmark: The Danish Working Environment Authority
  4. US: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  5. Canada: The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
  6. Malaysia: Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH)
  7. People’s republic of China: Ministry of Health is responsible for occupational disease prevention and the State Administration of Work Safety
  8. South Africa: Department of Labour
  9. India: National Safety Council (NSC)

Although the NSC was set up in 1966, Bhopal disaster that occurred in the year 1984 brought even more attention to the importance of safety, not only in India but worldwide. Human loss is also accompanied by monetary loss for the plants involved. “A safe plant is a more profitable plant.”Walt Boyes. One cannot ignore the financial risk that involves with every accident. In financial terms, these risks are known as ‘contingent costs’. Contingent costs include penalties, remediation, personal injury damages etc. Not to mention the damage that is caused to a company as its corporate image and relationships are at risk as well. Take the example of Hindustan Unilever, when its workers were exposed to mercury in the thermometer factory it owned in Kodaikanal. It shut down in 2001.

Now here we are looking at the bigger picture, to keep it all safe. ‘Life Cycle Analysis’ (LCA) gives us that bigger picture. There are softwares out there that can help a company and there are companies which are already at it.

LCA softwares include:

  1. SimaPro
  2. Umberto
  3. GaBi

You will find some more here:

  1. EPA‘s LCA resources

Companies involved in LCA:

  1. Bristol-Myers Squibb
  2. BASF’s Eco-Efficiency Analysis
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