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Column Model for Chemical Substitutes Assessment

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1. Elaborated by

Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA, Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance)

2. Description

The Institute for Occupational Safety (IFA) of the Social Accident Insurance developed the Column Model to provide industry with a practical tool for identification of alternative substances. This is a simplified method to make a preliminary comparison between the risks of the different substances and products and offer a quick judgment on the convenience of substitution.

The model is based on 6 columns in which the following hazard categories are described:

  • Acute health hazards
  • Chronic health hazards
  • Fire and explosion hazards
  • Environmental hazards
  • Exposure Potential
  • Process hazards

Columns are devided into cells/boxes that contain the criteria to estimate the level of risk based on H phrases (R phrases in the former version), physical form of the substance, vapour pressure, German classification of hazards for the aquatic environment and type of process (open, manual, etc.). Cells/boxes correspond to risk levels, ranked from Negligible to Very high.

Users can compare risk levels of the substance in use and the alternatives by placing/ assigning both agents in their respective boxes in the table.

The necessary information to use this model can be obtained from Chemical Safety Data Sheets, and information on the process in which the given chemical is used.

Products and substances are compared by columns, i.e. by type of hazard. The acute health hazards and chronic health hazards must be evaluated jointly: products are only assessed for similar hazards. Conditions of product use must be considered. According to the hazard levels identified by this tool, the preferred substitute will be the one with the lowest hazard level.

However an alternative will hardly have the lowest level in all the hazard endpoints, so users must set their own criteria to decide which alternative is preferable. Users must decide which potential hazards are more relevant for the workplace where the product is used taking into consideration the company’s possibilities to control or manage the different hazards.

For instance, if an alternative substance has a lower level of toxicity than the product in use, but the environmental hazards are higher, the user must decide whether use conditions in the company allow an adequate control of environmental hazards or not, in order to choose that alternative.

The Columns Model includes criteria for the evaluation of hazards in case of lack of information on toxicity. The method advises against the use of substitutes for which there is no information about skin, toxic, mutagenic or sensitizing effects.

3. Reliability

The main sources of information for this method are Chemical Safety Data Sheets. Several studies conducted in Europe (read more) have shown important shortcomings of these sheets, especially regarding classification. It is recommendable to double-check R phrases assigned to products and chemicals using additional sources as the European Chemical Substances Information System (ESIS) database. The implementation of the new European Regulation on Chemicals (REACH) must expedite the classification of more substances in the next years.

4. Applicability

Applicability is restricted to single cases of substitution of one product or chemical by another. It is not possible to compare products with alternative procedures or technologies. This method is aimed at SME’s and non-specialized users. It is applicable only to chemical hazards and risks.

5. User friendliness

The model is easy to handle by non-professional users and does not require special expertise if Chemical Safety Data Sheets are available.

6. Limitations

Since the method is based on R phrases, it covers 7000 chemicals classified with such phrases, included in Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 CLP. However, once the CLP inventory is published at the ECHA website, the classification of all substances placed on the EU market will be available independent of their registration status. Estimates can also be drawn using the description of hazards associated with R phrases if there is an additional source of information on the assessed risks. For these estimations a higher level of expertise would be recommended.

The most important advantage of this method is that is very easy to handle by non-professional users and facilitates a quick assessment on possible substitutes and alternatives.

7. Availability

The method (in German or English) can be downloaded free of charge at IFA’s website. A Serbian translation was realised by the NGO ALHem – Safer Chemicals Alternative. A Spanish translation of the former version was published by INSHT (Spanish Occupational Health and Safety Institute), see Nota Técnica de Prevención 712.

8. Links:

GHS column model

Go to: (new GHS version)

Column model according to the former classification and labelling system

Go to: (former version)

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Restricted and priority substances database» link
Case story database » link

External substitution websites and databases
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