Take a systematic approach to gather and evaluate information for implementation of an alternative
1. Define the Problem
Describe both hazards and useful properties of the candidate to substitution. Ask your suppliers and/or use reliable sources to check hazards. Describe the function of the substance and the conditions needed to make it work at the desired performance level: operational parameters (pH, temperature, etc), quantity, equipment. Substitution might imply changing some of these, too. Prioritize substitution considering applicable legislation or policies of your company and your customers.
Find out about the possibilities for financing your substitution project. The funding options depend on your sector and the type of project.
2. Set substitution criteria
Set criteria to eliminate alternatives that are not safer or not safe enough. When establishing criteria, check what substances are on a priority list by legislation or a ’black list’ by companies. You can also check which of the hazards you identified were used by others to define substances of concern. Further substitution criteria relate to technical functionality, and operational specifics of your company may play a role as well. Reflect on the reasons for implementing an alternative on the basis of the operational conditions and costs.
3. Search for alternatives
Search on the internet, ask authorities, your professional associations, NGOs or trade unions. In Germany, the technical rules for hazardous substances on alternatives are relevant. In addition, sector-and use-specific assistance might be available from the accident insurance institutions .e.g, the WINGIS database (specific information in German for the construction sector) and other publications. Also, consider substitution solutions from other regulatory areas and other sectors. Focus on alternatives that have already been developed and implemented, so that innovation costs and risks do not occur or might be reduced. You may also ask your supplier to formulate a safer alternative. But first, search within your own company.
4. Assess and compare alternatives
Assess all alternatives with the same method/tool for comparability. Consider hazard criteria set at point 2. Analyse costs (can you afford it?) and cost/benefit. An all-risk reduction solution is the ideal alternative. However, most solutions are more suited for some of the risks than for others. Select the alternative which is safer, feasible and fits the nature and dimension of your problem.
5. Experiment on pilot
First try substitution on a smaller, pilot scale. Plan the technological and organisational changes needed. Pre-evaluate risks with an appropriate methodology. Assess substitution as regards functional performance, impact on workers, environment or consumers. Pay special attention to possible shift of risks and the necessary control measures. Consult employees.
6. Implement and improve
Think what other measures would be needed when implementing substitution at full capacity. Update your supply chain and inform your downstream users. Collect extended feedback from workers and clients. Identify points to improve. Promote your achievements.