The Importance of Carcinogenicity GHS Classification for Shop Floor Workers


Short-term and long-term effects of chemical exposure can have dire consequences on everyone working in a factory in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, wood and furniture, paints and coatings, and manufacturing. For example, eighty-five percent of mesothelioma cases, a cancer of the tissue surrounding most internal organs, are related to occupational exposure to carcinogens.

EHS professionals must follow the GHS protocol diligently when classifying their chemicals as carcinogens. With clear communication of hazards through readily available Safety Data Sheets (SDS), you can preserve the health of your workers and increase worker satisfaction.

What is Occupational Cancer?

Cancer may occur due to prolonged exposure to cancer-causing agents in industry due to the nature of a person’s occupation. These include:

  • Exposure to industrial chemicals, specks of dust, metals, and combustion products
  • Exposure to forms of ultraviolet or ionizing radiation
  • Industries with high carcinogen exposure, such as painting or aluminum production

Wood manufacturing and aircraft, aerospace, and battery production are among the many industries with the highest likelihood of incidence of occupational cancer, given the high rate of exposure to carcinogens such as cadmium, pentachlorophenol, beryllium and beryllium compounds.

Many studies have associated specific cancers with certain occupations. Lung cancer is prevalent in painters and aluminum production workers who work with arsenic and cadmium. Skin cancer often affects petroleum refining workers, who are more likely to be exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) like benzo[a]pyrene.

Carcinogenicity Classification

The high incidence of occupational cancer in your industry (or similar ones) should encourage you to correctly classify your chemicals into the GHS-defined carcinogenicity categories based on the available information. Existing data from published studies and experimental data from regulatory agencies is the best way to do this according to the available Guidance for Hazard Classifications.

To perform the evaluation, review the strength of evidence of your chemicals, that is, whether the number of tumors in human and animal studies indicates a causal relationship between substance exposure and cancer incidence, as well as other considerations, such as cancer-incidence based on the route of exposure and the mode of action. Data on tumor formation should be coupled with evidence from dose-response assessments, toxicokinetic evaluation of the chemicals, and studies on susceptible populations and life stages.

If you have evaluated the strength and weight of the evidence and determined that the substance is known or presumed to have carcinogenic potential in humans, then it should be placed in Category 1. If the substance is a suspected human carcinogen, you must categorize it as a category 2 carcinogen.

Presumed human carcinogens

  • A chemical should be placed in Category 2 if there is evidence of its carcinogenicity obtained from human and/or animal studies that are nonetheless not sufficiently convincing to place the chemical in Category 1

In the case of mixtures, you must evaluate whether a category 1 or 2 carcinogen is present at 0.1% or more of the total concentration; if one is, you must classify the mixture as a category 1 or 2 carcinogen, respectively.

ERA experts have developed a robust SDS authoring software that thoroughly reviews the GHS classification criteria for carcinogenicity. Additionally, ERA has compiled a detailed eBook outlining how you can carry out classifications for all your substances and mixtures.

Carcinogen Risk Assessment

According to the EPA guidelines for carcinogen risk assessment, you must assess the chemicals in your facility for human exposure potential and overall carcinogenicity risk. Much like the carcinogenic classification, this risk assessment involves evaluating existing information and reaching an educated conclusion on how employees should interact with it. A professional with good working knowledge, awareness of the working environment, and interpretation skills for the different sources of information should perform the risk assessment.

To perform a risk assessment, you should identify the chemicals and substances in your facility’s production processes and determine the likelihood of an illness, a potentially severe operating situation, or a non-standard event (such as maintenance or a power outage) occurring. This may involve reviewing all available health and safety information from your chemicals’ SDS, manufacturer’s literature, and data from reputable organizations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The assessment should also take into account methods and procedures, machinery, tools, materials, use handling and substance storage, actual worker exposure, control measures such as engineering controls, work practices, frequency of the task, the location where the task is performed, additional employees that could come in contact with the chemical (such cleaners and visitors), the product lifecycle’s, and education and training resources for workers.

After performing the assessment, it is essential to present it in a way that addresses the purpose of the evaluation and spells out the precautions that your facility will take to reduce these risks. Determining the appropriate way to eliminate or control the hazard is the most critical step for worker safety. Remember to display documents such as SDS to ensure employees are informed of the identified risks.

A Tool to Make Your Hazard Communication Easy

Chemical classification can be highly time-consuming for facilities with many chemicals and blends. Generating detailed SDS to communicate the potential hazards can take away significant time from conducting risk assessments and organizing PPE and workplace practices that minimize the risk of occupational cancer.

ERA’s SDS Authoring and Managementsoftware solutions provide accurate classification and hazard communication for your chemicals and blends. In the user-friendly UI, the associated pictograms are readily presented, which means your workers access all the information they need to know about a substance during use. If you are interested in using this robust software, book a consultation call with a project analyst below.

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