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Risk reduction of chemicals

Risk reduction measures aims to protect human health and the environment from adverse effects from hazardous chemicals. The focus is on preventive chemicals control with measures directed towards the placing of chemicals on the market. When the result of a risk assessment shows that measures already in place are not enough to reduce the risk and there is a need to further reduce the exposure to a chemical in the environment and to humans, it is necessary for the government and its authorities to introduce further risk reduction measures.

Risk reduction through general obligations on industry

As mentioned in other parts of this web guide, an important part of preventive chemicals control is to make chemicals risk management an integrated and natural part of the daily work within industry, including all companies that handle chemicals. It is central to develop legislation that allocates responsibilities to producers, importers and users. There are some risk reduction measures that cover all hazardous chemicals, such as the implementation of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling (GHS), which prescribes that information should be disseminated in the supply chain, about chemicals, their properties and recommended risk mitigation measures.

Read more about classification and labelling of chemicals.

Prioritising of chemicals for specific risk reduction measures

In some cases, general requirements in the legislation, including GHS, are not sufficient to handle specific chemicals due to the potential risk they pose. It will then be necessary for authorities to introduce measures directed towards those substances or groups of substances.

Read more about prioritizing chemicals for risk reduction measures in our Guidance on risk reduction of chemicals, chapter 6.

Issues to consider when choosing risk reduction measures

When considering the introduction of any kind of risk reduction measures for a chemical, it is advisable to work in a structured way and to start by identifying the problem.

  • WHAT risk reduction is to be achieved?
  • WHO needs to take action in order to reduce the risk?
  • HOW might the risk be managed?
  • WHEN should a specific instrument be used in relation to the use of other instruments?

The next step in the process should be to identify the most appropriate risk reduction instruments. In this process, industry, downstream users, and other stakeholders should be invited to contribute. The latter group might be other authorities or different non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including environmental and consumer representatives. Downstream users play an important role because they can have other perspectives than the producers or importers when it comes to introducing safer alternatives. The waste sector is another important stakeholder because waste containing hazardous substances must be treated in a special way.

Factors to consider for the choice of the most appropriate risk reduction instrument are:

  • Degree of hazard and risk
  • Efficiency
  • Sustainability over time
  • Costs and benefits for different actors, socioeconomic consequences
  • Administrative burden

Choice of risk reduction instrument

Administrative instruments

One more general and already mentioned administrative instrument is the implementation of GHS. If the identified risk from a chemical is high, administrative or legislative measures such as introduction of bans and restrictions or an authorisation system might be the most efficient way to control the risk.

Read more about administrative instruments in our Guidance on risk reduction of chemicals, chapter 8.2.

Read more about bans and restrictions.

Read more about risk assessment and risk mitigation of pesticides.

Economic policy instruments

In addition to administrative instruments, economic policy instruments or incentives can be used. Instruments can consist of taxes and fees, as well as of different forms of subsidies.

Read more about economic policy instruments in our Guidance on risk reduction of chemicals, chapter 8.3.

Informative instruments

Informative instruments aim to achieve a voluntary reduction of the use of specific chemicals. The outcome of informative measures is less certain than compulsory measures but can be a cost-effective way to achieve risk reduction.

Read more about informative instruments in our Guidance on risk reduction of chemicals, chapter 8.4.

Guidance on risk reduction of chemicals

The guidance document on risk reduction of chemicals is about risk mitigation as part of an effective system for chemicals management and can support countries that want to introduce and develop national chemicals control. The document focuses on preventive chemicals control and addresses various methods to reduce the risks of chemical substances in chemical products and articles.

The guidance covers the following areas:

  • Risk reduction of chemicals - a preventive approach
  • Roles and responsibilities - government and industry
  • Implementing international conventions and agreements
  • Prioritisation of chemicals for risk management measures
  • Risk reduction instruments
  • Decision making

Read our guidance on Risk reduction of chemicals.

This guidance complements the UNEP Guidance on the Development of Legal and Institutional Infrastructures and Measures for Recovering Costs of National Administration for Sound Management of Chemicals (LIRA Guidance), and UNEP Guidance "Risk Reduction Tools for Chemicals Control".

Read the UNEP LIRA Guidance External link.

Read UNEP Guidance on Risk Reduction Tools for Chemicals Control External link.


Illustrations by Maja Modén.

Last published 7 July 2022