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PRIO – A tool for Risk Reduction of Chemicals


Chemicals are regulated by several different sets of rules

Chemical products are not located in one comprehensive set of legislation. Chemicals are used in many different places in society, and the risks that have to be managed therefore concern many health, safety and environmental aspects. Both the Environmental Code and legislation in the area of the working environment contain a number of rules pertaining to the chemicals area. Other laws regulate the transport of dangerous goods, inflammable and explosive goods, and large scale handling of chemical products to protect against accidents. There is a special legislation to regulate pesticides, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products. More information about relevant legislations can be found at

The European chemical legislation, Reach, has drastically changed the regulations for chemical substances.

Chemicals in the work environment

An important area, with comprehensive legislation, concerns the chemical risks in the work environment. Specially interesting for chemical questions are Swedish Board of Industrial Safety regulations concerning chemical risks in the work environment, AFS 2014:43. Keeping chemical risks under control forms part of the employer's responsibilities for the working environment. There are a number of important points to keep track of:

  • In order to be able to select the right protective measures and plan emergency readiness, a risk assessment must be carried out at the workplace. The risk assessment forms the basis for deciding which chemical product shall be used in a certain context. However it must be borne in mind that in this context there may be other risks than those posed by chemicals. What happens, for example, in the case of a power failure or a leak? The risk assessment must be documented.
  • The work must be planned so that exposure to hazardous substances is minimised. There are occupational exposure limits for about 400 substances. If the levels are lower than the occupational exposure limit, it is considered that people are protected against harm even in the case of long term exposure. If the level of exposure is not known, or air pollution is suspected, measurements must be made and an investigation must be carried out.
  • Those who work with hazardous substances must receive instruction on how to work safely. In the case of particularly hazardous work in enclosed spaces, written work authorisation is required. In the case of certain substances special permission is required from the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
  • In most cases there must be a list of products that are hazardous to health or are inflammable, along with labelling and safety data sheets.

Read more at Swedish Work Environment Authority web site.

Chemicals in the Environmental Code

The basic regulations in the Environmental Code (1998:808) in fact apply to all kinds of business, such as those carried out by companies, district councils and private individuals. Here is a brief account of how chemical issues are treated in the Environmental Code.

The general considerations in section 2 of the Environmental Code also apply to the handling of chemical products, including among other things the requirement to obtain knowledge and requirements for product selection. These rules are generally applicable, i.e. they apply to manufacturers, importers, sales staff and users of chemical products.

The Environmental Code contains several general rules concerning chemical products and bio-technical organisms, among other things concerning an obligation to investigate, product information, an information obligation, a product register, notification and permits for certain product groups. It is manufacturers, importers and sales staff for chemical products who carry the main responsibility for chemical checks, i.e. to prevent harm coming to people or the environment.

The Environmental Code contains a number of special regulations concerning chemical products, but there are also several detailed regulations for certain of them, for example pesticides, PCB, spilled oil and substances that threaten the ozone layer.

At the Swedish Chemicals Agency's website you will find a regulation on the classification and labelling of chemical products. Chemicals classified as harmful must be accompanied by safety data sheets. They must also be labelled with hazard pictograms.

As far as safety and protection information are concerned, work environment legislation and environmental legislation harmonise. The following requirements are of particular interest for many companies:

  • Obligation to investigate – those who manufacture or import a chemical product are obliged to see that a satisfactory investigation takes place to assess the possible risks to health or the environment posed by a product.
  • Product information – manufacturers and importers must provide information about their chemical products by means of labelling and safety data sheets.
  • Information obligation – manufacturers and importers must provide such information to the authorities that may be needed to assess the risks to health and the environment of the products.
  • Product register – chemical products that in the course of business are manufactured or brought into Sweden must be recorded in a register that is maintained by the Swedish Chemicals Agency.
  • Notification – can be required from those who intend to manufacture or bring into Sweden chemical products or bio-technical organisms.
  • Permit – may be required to import, transfer in the course of business or otherwise handle particularly hazardous chemical products. In the case of pesticides there are special requirements for testing and approval before the product may be sold and used. There are also special regulations for fuel in respect of its quality and characteristics.

Legislation concerning chemicals in articles

Many different articles contain chemicals, examples being dyes in textiles, paint or varnish on wood or metal objects, furniture and tools. The regulations pertaining to articles are nowhere near as far developed as the rules applying to chemical products. Reach will however bring new requirements for articles too, including information about the content of particularly hazardous substances.

The Environmental Code general considerations also apply to articles that contain or have been treated with chemical products. They must for example be replaced by less hazardous substances when this is possible. Those who manufacture or bring in such articles must also provide the information that is needed to protect human health and the environment. There are also restrictions and prohibitions, for example on the presence of hazardous heavy metals and other chemical substances in articles. Product safety legislation means that the inspection authorities must be informed about hazardous articles and services. If a company decides itself for example to recall a chemical product that is available to consumers because that product is not safe, the company is obliged to inform the Swedish Chemicals Agency. The Swedish National Board for Consumer Policies also conducts inspection in respect of articles.

RoHS and ELV

RoHS is an EU Directive concerning the limitation of use of certain hazardous substances in electrical or electronic equipment, which has meant a great deal to the engineering and electronics industries. You can find more information on RoHS here.

ELV stands for End of Life of Vehicles and its a Directive that limits the use of certain heavy metals in vehicles. For more information about ELV Directive visit the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency web site.

Other legislation focusing on chemical products

Chemical questions are also included in other legislation than work environment legislation and the Environmental Code. Here are some examples of regulations that affect some companies.

Chemical accidents

The legislation concerning serious chemical accidents (1999:381) is based on the EU "Seveso II Directive". This affects over 300 industrial installations in Sweden, of which a number belong to the group of small and medium size companies.

Transport of dangerous goods

The transport of dangerous goods is covered by special rules in accordance with the Transport of Dangerous Goods Act (1982:821). Among other things this means that companies operating businesses that include the transport of dangerous goods must have one or more safety advisors with the necessary competence. This also applies to companies performing loading or unloading in connection with such transport. This requirement applies to all types of transport. The purpose is to raise the level of safety. The safety advisors must act under the responsibility of the company management to prevent accidents and to report to the management on accidents or incidents that may occur in connection with the transport of dangerous goods.

Handling of inflammable and explosive goods

Companies which handle inflammable and explosive goods have special obligations in accordance with the Inflammable and Dangerous Goods Act (1988:868), apart from those regulated by the above-mentioned Acts. For example, the Transport of Dangerous Goods Act applies to the transport of these goods. Buildings and other installations must be securely arranged from the point of view of fire and explosion. Special competence is required, and there must be a superintendent for inflammable goods. Risk investigations are to be carried out. Authorisation is required to handle large amounts.