Five Ways EHS Software Can Help You Strengthen Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene (IH), the deliberate and scientific control of occupational hazards and risks, is more important than ever. Yet for the last 20 years, the number of certified industrial hygienists (CIHs) has been on the decline. CIH responsibilities are being subsumed by technicians and EHS generalists, farmed out to costly consultants, or even left unfulfilled.

The EHS industry is changing in response to these challenges. For one thing, professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) have opened their doors and have begun targeting their message about the importance of IH to broader audiences.

It’s because of trends like these that we at VelocityEHS offer our new software solution to empower businesses to more easily manage their IH needs, regardless of how much or how little background they already have. Our solution, like our entire platform, enables you to cut through the time and complexity of your most important tasks, enabling you to maintain a world-class program and have real-time visibility and reporting into your most important activities.

Another great example of the ability of software to bolster IH is in the management of chemicals. Proper chemical management is a critical component of a solid IH program, even if many organizations fall short. Hazard Communication has ranked #2 or #3 on OSHA’s annual list of most frequently cited violations for more than a decade, which points to systemic chemical management issues that undermine the effectiveness of IH programs and place workers at risk. Our award-winning SDS & Chemical Management solutions can help you there, whether you have responsibility for a single facility or a large enterprise.

Following is a look at five ways our software can strengthen your IH program, improve chemical management, and protect the safety of your workforce.

1. Chemical Inventory & Ingredients Tracking

Everything starts with knowing what chemicals you have in the workplace. It's the key to drafting an accurate written HazCom plan, ensuring you have all necessary safety data sheets (SDSs) for the chemicals in your inventory, effectively managing workplace labels, training your employees on chemical hazards, and meeting regulatory responsibilities.

However, knowing what chemical products you have isn’t enough. You also need visibility into the ingredients of those products, along with their specific hazards and regulatory considerations. Take methylene chloride, for example, a common ingredient in aerosol degreasing sprays and paint-removing solvents. Facility managers are often unaware it is present in their facilities because the names of the products don't provide obvious clues. And if you don’t know you have methylene chloride, it's unlikely that your IH program includes exposure monitoring for it, which leaves you out of compliance with OSHA’s methylene chloride standard.

Our chemical management software makes it easy to avoid this issue. Chemicals can be tracked by container at the company, facility, department, and even storage level. Some software even gives you visual insight into of your chemical footprint with drag-and-drop controls that allow you to instantly identify, move, and manage your chemical inventory on an image map of your facility. And the most robust software solutions feature ingredient indexing to help you track chemical ingredients across products while flagging those that are subject to more stringent regulatory standards.

Our IH solution takes even more work out of the process by providing a built-in database of Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Numbers and associated Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). This information is vital to our next step: setting up and maintaining an IH sampling program.

Our SDS & chemical management software also helps by providing fast and easy access to SDSs and streamlined creation of workplace labels. Our system can use information indexed on the SDS to "replicate" the chemical's shipped label for most container sizes and ensure that all Hazard Communication information on that label is communicated to workers. Or, it can create customized labels to fit the needs of your people and unique work environment, including labels for very small containers like test tubes and vials with select GHS elements.

Employees armed with the tools described above are more empowered to make their workplaces safer, which is essential as IH increasingly becomes a shared responsibility.

2. Creating and Maintaining Your IH Sampling Plan

It should hopefully be pretty obvious that getting Step 1 right (having a complete and current chemical inventory list) is a major prerequisite to putting together your sampling plan. It’s a point obvious to inspectors, too. During compliance inspections, it's common for regulatory compliance officers to ask which chemicals have been added to your inventory since the last time IH sampling was conducted. If chemicals added since then have established exposure limits, and you haven't yet conducted exposure monitoring for them, you're putting your regulatory compliance and workers at risk.

As new chemicals arrive, carefully review information in their SDSs to identify all ingredients that may pose exposure hazards and include all relevant exposure limitations in your IH plan. Make sure you're not only sampling for 8-hour time-weighted average exposures such as the permissible exposure limit (PEL), but also for shorter-term exposure guidelines such as:

  • Short-term exposure limit (STEL), measured as a 15-minute TWA concentration
  • Immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) concentration, which indicates a maximum level above which only a highly reliable breathing apparatus, providing maximum worker protection, is permitted
  • Lower explosive limit (LEL), which is the lowest concentration of a gas or vapor capable of igniting with air

How you incorporate this information into your IH sampling plan will depend on your operations. Those with periodic aspects to them, like cleaning out of a tank or adding chemical ingredients to a mixture, are good examples of instances in which concentrations can temporarily spike. Evaluate compliance with short-term limits like the STEL, IDLH, and LEL while those tasks are performed, in addition to evaluating 8-hour TWAs. Assess your equipment and sampling needs, because you may find it necessary to purchase or rent a photoionization detector (PID) in order to capture airborne concentrations in real time and install monitors with alarms to warn workers when concentrations reach dangerous levels.

You also need to determine which of your employees you will include in your sampling, based in part on determining Similar Exposure Groups (SEGS), which are groups of employees who’d likely have very similar exposure patterns on based on job tasks, frequency and duration of exposure, and similar use of controls. Then you need to choose appropriate analytical methods, and select laboratories that can perform the analyses, review and interpret the results, and take appropriate actions based on them.

Our IH software can assist you in managing your IH sampling program by giving you a simple platform for selecting chemicals to be sampled, identifying correct analytical methods, creating your SEGs, and even helping choose the right laboratories for the job. All along the way, your information is accessible to all parties that need to access it, including corporate EHS representatives, consultants, and laboratory technicians. Our software not only makes your job easier, but helps ensure the seamless hand-off of responsibilities from one stakeholder to the others, minimizing the chance for mistakes or miscommunications and keeping your entire workforce safer.

3. IH Reporting and Employee Right-to-Know

Once you have your IH sampling results, you need to make sure you are able to easily share the results with employees. Keep in mind that specific standards require the employer to automatically notify affected employees of monitoring results – for example, employers must notify employees of their methylene chloride exposures within 15 working days of receiving results. And the OSHA Standard “Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records” in 1910.1020 requires employers to provide access to exposure records within 15 days of an employee request. If this cannot be done, the employer must inform the employee of the reason for the delay and the earliest day when the records can be available.

Our IH solution enables you to easily comply with these notification requirements by allowing you to easily track your results and maintain them in one centralized location. The solution also flags results that exceed the applicable OEL by highlighting them in red, making it much easier for you to prioritize your communications and know when follow-activities will be needed.

4. Employee Training & Preparedness

One of the keys to getting IH right is employee training. Here, too, chemical management software is invaluable.

Employers are required to train employees on key information in SDSs (including health and physical hazards, storage and disposal requirements, and emergency response information) prior to their working with hazardous chemicals, but SDSs also help employees put that training into use in the moment. Software that makes that information easy to access wherever and whenever your people need it makes it more likely they'll use it.

Our IH solution makes training easier through its reporting tools, which enable you to share details of your IH sampling program with your workforce and give them the kind of specific training on your chemical hazards and exposure assessments you need to promote the success of your IH program.

EHS software also can help simplify your IH training management by tracking who's been trained on what and when, while also providing engaging content in a format that's easy for you to deploy and your people to access.

5. Chemical Banning & Approval Workflows

A major component of IH is following the hierarchy of controls, so one of the best ways to control chemical hazards is to keep them out of the workplace in the first place. Well-designed chemical management software can help you do that by creating approval workflows that require sign-off from authorized personnel before a chemical enters the facility, or even letting everyone know within the software when a product isn't allowed on premises.

You can't be everywhere at once and, as mentioned before, the need for IH has increased while people and resources to manage it have become scarcer. Putting this new breed of EHS software to work for you means that responsibility for IH best practices can be shared. Workflows and chemical banning allow you to extend your reach, even when you’re not there in person.

Picking the Right Tools

What should you look for in software for managing IH? It should be easy to implement, easy to use, and work the way you work. The right software can significantly reduce or eliminate the high costs associated with hiring consultants and improve and streamline all aspects of your program. However, the wrong software can become just another obstacle to overcome.

We’ve seen that here are quite a few nuances to doing chemical management and IH effectively, but the right tools help you meet the challenges of IH in changing times and provide a safer, healthier workplace for all.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

Management of IH requires seamless management of your chemical inventory. We can help you there.

Our new solution can help you easily plan and manage all phases of your sampling program, from choosing chemicals and analytical methods and even helping select appropriate laboratories, helping to minimize potential for errors and making your data easier to manage. We also give you simple reporting tools to help you make your results accessible to your employees and facilitate IH training.

For additional information on HazCom compliance and best practices, be sure to check out our Resources page for a variety of complimentary white papers & guides, webinars and the MSDSonline Blog. And try our MSDSonline SDS & Chemical management platform for easy management of your chemical inventory and SDS library, with the capability of providing 24/7 access to SDSs for your entire workforce. Ingredient indexing features are even available which make your inventory visible at the ingredient level, and capability to flag chemicals subject to specific regulatory standards.

To learn more, Request Your Free Trial Today or give us a call at 1.888.362.2007.

As always, all of us here at VelocityEHS wish you many safe and happy days.