Transitioning to Safer Chemicals:
A Toolkit for Employers and Workers
Step 5: Select a Safer Alternative
Decisions that thoughtfully weigh the pros and cons of safer alternatives benefit your company and your workforce. This step will help you organize information on hazard, cost, and performance, as well as evaluate potential trade-offs, in order to select alternatives that will improve worker safety and health.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative with regard to hazard, performance, and cost?
- What trade-offs exist for each alternative?
- How should the various criteria and impacts be weighed to select alternatives that best enhance worker safety and health?
- Are there other considerations to weigh when determining the best option (energy use, water use, environmental impacts, hazardous waste management, upstream or downstream hazards to workers, etc.)?
After gathering information about potential alternative chemicals, materials, products or processes, it is important to organize the data for each alternative, including information about the data sources, quality, and gaps. Thoughtfully presenting the data gathered during an alternatives assessment can help facilitate the decision-making process. The Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse provides some useful models for arraying data in ways that allow decision-makers to visualize gaps and identify tradeoffs.
U.S. EPA's Design for the Environment Program Alternatives Assessments
After completing an alternatives assessment, the Design for the Environment Program compiles hazard data for each alternative evaluated in order to facilitate decision-making. The results are presented qualitatively by endpoint and also clarify the origin of the data (i.e., experimental, estimated values, professional judgment).
During the selection of alternatives, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative with regards to hazard, performance, and cost, and identify any trade-offs that exist. You may want to develop a table or spreadsheet that outlines the pros and cons of each option and their importance in the selection process. Or you may develop some sort of scoring system that weighs different attributes – safety, performance, and cost.
The selection of a preferred alternative should be directly linked to the goals of your organization and your project. You should consult the team and use your company goals and work plan for transitioning to safer chemicals, as well as any chemical use policy, to weigh the various hazard, performance, and cost criteria or make decisions regarding trade-offs. You should also determine whether there are other impacts of the alternatives, including, but not limited to energy use, water use, environmental impacts, hazardous waste impacts, and upstream or downstream hazards to workers that are important to consider in your decision.
Worker input is also important during the selection process. It may be helpful to openly discuss any drawbacks and benefits of the options, as well as practical considerations of implementation, with the team as well as with any other workers who might be affected by a change.
Once you have selected an alternative for your particular application, you should communicate the decision to all relevant parties, particularly those who will work with the alternative chemical, material, product, or process. You should document the decision-making process, including the thought process, assumptions, and rationales used, so the decision can be clearly explained, justified, and understood by others. Conducting training might be an efficient way to communicate these changes; trainings may also fulfill legal requirements of communicating hazards to employees, depending on the alternatives selected.
Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute's Perchloroethylene Alternatives Assessment
In its assessment of seven alternatives to the use of perchloroethylene (perc) in drycleaning, the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute developed a table summarizing the comparison of the alternatives and perc, based on technical, economic, environmental, regulatory and human health criteria. The table uses color coding to indicate the preferability of alternatives purely from an environmental health and safety perspective.
Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse (IC2). Presenting Results. This resource provides information and examples for compiling information from an alternatives assessment and displaying the results for transparent decision-making.
Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse (IC2). Guidance for Alternatives Assessment and Risk Reduction. This document includes a decision module that outlines strategies for evaluating decision criteria and trade-offs.