PRIO – A tool for Risk Reduction of Chemicals

Product design and development

Judicious choice of chemicals provides better quality – PRIO can help in this

During product development, a considerable part of the product's environmental influence is determined. The total risk is obviously dependent on how the product is used. As a product developer you can prevent risks by avoiding building certain particularly hazardous properties into the product.

When a product is designed and developed, this is when there is the greatest possibility to influence and prevent the environmental and health risks that may later arise during the life of the product. By providing information concerning in which way different substances can pose a threat, PRIO can help you to prioritise to which substances you should primarily pay attention.

As a product developer you should know the properties of the substances which you are using in the product. You can read more about the different properties and their effects in Criteria.

The choice of chemicals is important in product development

It is nowadays part of the meaning of quality that the product must be safe for health and the environment. Dearly bought experience, such as the asbestos scandal in the USA and cleaning out of PCB in buildings has taught us that care in the choice of products can save us time, money and prevent a bad image.

Health and environmental classification of chemical substances contributes to the work of reducing risks. The classification must be carried over to the customer, and the market value of mild classification can be seen as dependent to a large extent on the customer base.

In chapter 2 §6 of the Environmental Code is the product choice or substitution principle, which, simplified, says that products must not be more hazardous than necessary. Substitution and phasing out are part of product development for those companies which want or are forced to respect the requirements set by the outside world.
Read more about substitution and phase out.

  • It is important for the environmental and health aspects to be taken into account as early as possible in the product development process. It is good, already at the ideas stage, to have the possible effects on humans and the environment in mind. Consider how safety for the environment and health can be dealt with in the briefing.
  • The tool's prioritisation levels can be used when drawing up the requirement specifications for a product.
  • Substances belonging to the phasing out prioritisation level should be avoided completely.
  • Substances belonging to the prioritised risk reduction level. The risks to humans and the environment must be assessed for every contemplated use

Materials and components

Materials and components in a product can contain substances that are harmful to health and the environment. It is therefore important to evaluate whether a substance is really need for the characteristics of the product, or whether it can be designed in a different way. There may well be alternative materials and components that are less hazardous. Also bear in mind that hazardous substances can affect the environment and health in several ways. Product development should therefore take into account chemical questions in the manufacturing process, when the product is being used and in recycling or waste management. It should also be considered whether there is a safe recycling system for the product and its components.

Weight and life expectancy

The choice of material sometimes affects the weight of a product, which can in turn affect its environmental performance. A lighter material can be good from an environmental viewpoint, for example a lighter car uses less fuel than a heavier one. The downside can be that the lighter material contains some hazardous substance. When it comes to life expectancy, it can pay to invest in durable and resistant material. Sometimes this can lead to the chemical content of a product being influenced, which must also be taken into account.

Information to users

Obviously it is difficult for a company to influence in detail how a company uses and disposes of products, but good information to the customer is essential, since this provides the conditions for safer handling. As far as the information about the risks associated with chemical substances in products is concerned, there are a number of requirements that the producers must meet. They have to provide information about the environmental and health risks that are associated with the goods. In the case of companies which manufacture, import or sell hazardous chemical products there is a legal requirement that the packaging must be equipped with danger symbols and other information. Written risk and protection information must be issued in the form of a safety data sheet by the manufacturer, importer or distributor of the specific product.

Instructions for product development

It is suitable within the framework of the environmental management system to compose instructions that consider environmental questions in product development. Such instructions could contain the following components:

  • A commitment saying that health, safety and environmental aspects shall be taken into account when the company develops or changes a product.
  • Clarification that a preliminary risk analysis must be performed as soon as possible within the development process. It is best for the company's environmental co-ordinator or other environmental specialist to take part in the analysis.
  • When important stages in the product development process are implemented, risk analyses and matching of the requirements in legislation and those of known or possible customers are to be documented.

Consider which information or instructions can accompany the product. Can there be information about the product, or are instructions needed concerning how the product is to be used? There are special rules governing product information for chemical products.

The instructions can also give information about areas that need particular attention during the development process, for example:

  • Identification of important environmental questions in connection with the use of raw materials and additives. Full scale production may for example mean extensive procedures regarding the classification and labelling of chemical products, transportation of hazardous goods, handling, imports, reporting to the product register and so on.
  • It is necessary to identify possible substances that are harmful to health and the environment in the recipe (formulation). One must also know which substances will be present in the finished product.
  • It should also be stated that information concerning environmental and health risks must be made available as early as possible in the development process.

Instructions of this kind do not focus exclusively on chemical questions, but should also cover aspects that concern the use of water, energy, releases into air and water, waste, ergonomics and other circumstances that concern the environment and health. Finally it should be made clear that during development on shall also take into account how the product should be dealt with when it has finished serving its purpose.

An exposure profile can help to clarify the risks

Try to map out the risks by considering what an exposure profile for the product could look like, see the illustration. An exposure profile helps to define the risks before, during and after use. Some of the risks associated with chemical substances depend on when exposure occurs, and also how the product is used. You can prepare an exposure profile by:

  • Considering where environmental and health risks can arise in the life cycle
  • How the product is used
  • When or how the substances are emitted into the surroundings

General exposure profile of two different products.

Table on the environmental aspects of the product

Depending on what the profile looks like, different risk reduction measures may be suitable. Try to identify which parts of the product life cycle can give rise to environmental and health risks. You can list these in the table that is appended as an Excel file.

Remember that a product may have several application areas. Think about what you as a product developer can do to minimise the effects of the product on the environment.

  • Can a large amount of health exposure in the manufacturing phase be avoided, e.g. by using pellets instead of powder?
  • Can exposure during use be reduced by packaging the product differently or by providing better information?
  • What information is needed at the disposal stage to minimise risks that may arise there?
  • Can the product be designed differently so that it is easier to take apart?

There are a number of manuals and methods for environmentally-adapted product development. For further information, see www.tillvaxtverket.se