There are chemicals and materials everywhere. We can encounter them as substances with a planned chemical effect, such as paint, jointing foam and flooring. Chemical effects may also derive from building materials where there is an accidental chemical effect, such as dust from insulation materials, wood and concrete, and fumes from welding and soldering. And in many instances we may encounter the remains of the sins of our forefathers during demolition and renovation work, such as asbestos, PCBs, lead and contaminated earth.
In other words, it is not enough just to be aware of the substances and materials you are using yourself: hazardous substances and materials can also be found in existing buildings.
The most important thing is to avoid contact with hazardous substances. This is not always possible. This is why it is important to implement a number of measures in terms of both planning and personal protection.
It is possible to see, smell or taste many chemical effects. Among other things, you can see dust in the air and often see, smell or taste smoke, steam and gas. Other chemical effects are difficult or impossible to notice. Here, you have to check the substances and materials by reading the label and the usage instructions.
Take particular care with contamination where chemical substances cannot be smelt or seen. There may still be chemical substances in the area. For example, carbon monoxide is deadly and gives no warning, and the fine, airborne dust from substances such as asbestos or quartz cannot always be seen or perceived.
Prevent possible health risks due to chemical substances by following this checklist:
- Remove the substance or material from the work site.
- Replace the substance or material with a less hazardous substance or material.
- Isolate the substance or material by enclosing the work process, for example.
- Establish process ventilation, e.g. in the form of spot extraction.
- Use personal protective equipment.
- Ensure that you receive thorough instruction. Read the work site usage instructions.
Assessment of hazardous substances
Hazardous substances and materials must always be replaced with non-hazardous, less hazardous or less harmful and problematic substances and materials. The planner also bears responsibility for this.
The Working Environment Authority may demand documentation indicating that it is not possible to replace a hazardous substance or material for technical or financial reasons.
It is not enough for the employer to be able to document that the effects from the hazardous substances and materials are insignificant. If the use of a replacement substance or material at the same time involves significant differences in technical qualities or charges, the employer must scrutinise overall the technical or financial consequences in relation to the health and safety considerations.
However, this assessment must be taken during the project design phase.