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Frode Soerensen




The traditional way to deal with occupational health problems due to chemicals starts with measuring the air pollution and comparing it with the threshold limit value (TLV). The TLV has been set mainly on the basis of the acute effects of a chemical on, for example, mucous membranes, and on technical and economic considerations. If the exposure level is too high, then the use of preventive measures such as encapsulation, industrial ventilation or personal protective devices and clothing may be proposed. This means that something is added to the process, for example an exhaust system transferring the pollution to the environment. Normally, nothing is changed in the process proper or in the use of chemicals.


But a change of this by substitution can result in a fundamental and continued improvement in occupational health by selection and development of alternative technical processes using less hazardous chemicals or no chemicals at all.


In a substitution, the chemicals in the final situation must be potentially less hazardous than in the initial situation, and the difference should be as great as possible.


It is especially important to avoid chemicals with long-term effects of a carcinogenic, reprotoxic, allergenic or neurotoxic nature because there are problems with safe limits, and the traditional methods of prevention such as personal protective devices and clothing, industrial ventilation or encapsulation are, in practice, often not sufficient.


It is also important to remember that less hazardous chemicals are not necessarily harmless, e.g. a hot alkaline solution used in metal degreasing. The traditional preventive measures may still have to be used, but the substitution has reduced the level of hazards.


Substitution is the opposite of biological monitoring where workers instead of hazardous chemicals are replaced. Substitution cuts the cycle of hazardous chemicals - also in the environment. Substitution of hazardous chemicals is one way to cleaner technology.



Both general and specific methods of substitution have been developed. The general methods should be useful for all kinds of hazardous chemicals in the working environment. They should give a broad selection of alternatives on different levels such as using

                 1) less hazardous chemicals in the same process, e.g.

a) For construction paints: from organic solvents to waterbased paints.

b)IIn printing industry for cleaning of offset printing machines: from organic solvents to products based on esters of vegetable oils,

                 2) a new design of the process, e.g.

a) In metal degreasing: from vapour degreasing with trichloroethylene to high pressure hosing with hot alkaline solution in a closed system.

b) In brazing: from fluxes containing boron and fluor compounds to use of a furnace with reducing atmosphere,

                 3) a new process, e.g.

a)  Removal of old paint: from a mixture of dichloromethane and methanol to blasting with steel sand in a closed system.

b)  From bonding with adhesives to a new design of items locking them mechanically together, mutually,

                 4) avoid the use of the process, e.g.

a)  Avoiding electroplating with nickel only applied for cosmetic reasons without any technical purpose.

b) Furniture of wood: from lacquer with organic solvents to no surface treatment especially used for furniture of quality, and

                 5) avoid the product.

                          ? ?


But always using less hazardous chemicals or no chemicals at all.


The specific methods are limited only to consider less hazardous chemicals in the same process. Therefore the general methods should be used before the specific methods.


General Methods

1)     A process-based method  

In our projects we have developed a process-based method (1,2,3), which is based on a process engineering point of view. The process-based method is useful both on branch and company level and includes:

a)     listing the chemical products,

b)     obtaining information on their composition,

c)      developing data sheets,

d)     process analysis,

e)      assessing the risk, and

f)       proposing substitutes.


Re a) Listing the chemical products is the first step in a systematic approach to improve occupational health. A form should be used for each chemical product, and surveys of production lines, processes and process steps should be performed so that the chemical products can be referred thereto. Listing on a company level will normally result in a purge of chemical products, because it is often found that some products are used in places other than those intended, that many products are no longer used and that there is more than one product for a specific use. The existing EU labeling and classification system does not motivate for substitution because of lack of relevant and sufficient information about long-term effects especially for organic solvents. Chemical products may contain high concentrations of organic solvents, e.g. for white spirit and xylene about 10 %, without consequence for the labeling.


Re c) Data sheets are developed by use of literature and data bases on toxicology, first for pure substances and then for products. Data sheets, useful for substitution, should contain the same sufficient and systematic information for chemicals both for the initial and for the new situation. It is therefore important to define the necessary information for an adequate description. Essential information must include chemical, physical and physico-chemical data as well as information on short- and long-term effects. In our data sheets we use a matrix (see figure 1) which, when filled in, provides a picture of the present knowledge of the long-term effects.



Damage to health


Under suspicion for damage to health

Probably no damage to health

Conflicting information

No documentation


























Other effects







Figure 1. Matrix in data sheet describing the state of knowledge to be marked

with an x of the potential hazard of long-term exposure.


The concept of the matrix is that we are forced to state in detail the knowledge of the long-term effects. The most common result is “No documentation”. In future we can hope to get substances separated in “damage to health” and “probably no damage to health”. In the work with substitution it is important to distinguish between “Probably no damage to health” and “No documentation”. It is also important to look at all long-term effects, and not only one effect, e.g. carcinogenic, such as in the directive 90/394 EEC with the risk to substitute to chemicals with the other long-term effects. Good control of long-term effects can prevent many mistakes in connection with substitution. And it is important by substitution to present the state of knowledge especially for the final situation. With the existing knowledge I find that 1) it is very attractive to substitute to no use of chemicals, 2) it is only possible to use a qualitative description and not a quantitative one based on TLV’s, and 3) further the demand for a great difference between the two situations is necessary. Also in order to avoid spoiling the concept of substitution.


The matrix could be useful for producers when they formulate products and want to avoid chemicals with long-term effects. In workshops, the matrix could be used to control that there is sufficient information on available data sheets.


The best way to help the work for better occupational health within companies is to make certain that they receive data sheets of substitution-level quality. In a project we have developed data sheets for 150 degreasing agents enabling Danish companies to choose e. g. between waterbased products. The possibilities of substitution are in our data sheets the first point under methods of prevention. A data sheet can only present the potential risk (hazard) without consideration of time and way of exposure. The real risk depends on the actual exposure, which in turn depends on process design, technical level, industrial ventilation etc. Such data cannot be included in a general data sheet.


I have not succeeded in my efforts to make the “official” Danish data sheets useful for substitution. I was in the steering committee for the project and worked for a substitution-level quality for the data sheets, but the Danish Working Environment Service, the Danish National Institute of Occupational Health, and the Danish Paintmakers Association were against this and especially against the detailed information about the long-term effects. I therefore find that the Danish Working Environment Service and the Danish National Institute of Occupational Health fundamentally secure a bad occupational health in connection with chemicals. The answer of the Danish Minister of Labour (4) confirms this opinion of mine in the work with the collected examples of substitution because the labour inspectors have reported many examples of substitutions where a careful study later showed they were wrong. Also the EU data sheets according to the directive 155/91/EEC are not useful for substitution. Data sheets of this type will secure the continued use of hazardous chemicals.


Re d) The process analysis is based on visits to plants and exhibitions and on studies of the relevant literature of the process in question. The process analysis comprises: the use of the process, the place of the process in a production line, subdivision into process steps, the level of technology, description of equipment, and the chemistry involved. The process analysis normally generates a number of alternatives.


Re e) Ideally the assessment of the risk for processes is based on information on data sheets, workplace measurements of exposure, and epidemiological surveys of occupational diseases. But very often only the information in data sheets is available for the process in question. The risk to humans is “small” if it is probable that there are no long-term effects, the exposure is essentially lower than the TLV, and there are no indications of diseases, symptoms or nuisances.


Re f) If the risk is not “small”, the possibilities for substitution should be looked into. In our projects we have had the experience that the process analysis already had generated alternatives for which we are making an assessment similar to the initial process. Then it is possible to compare and decide whether the alternative is a good substitution.


Substitution should be envisioned in connection with the whole production line - the total exposure must be reduced. By the substitution other effects in the working environment than the chemical hazards and the effects on the environment should also be considered. The proposed substitute should be tested in workshops for technical applicability, or existing technical experience in workshops should be collected.


Conclusion for the method 

Our experience using the process-based method is that the method is especially suitable in following cases:

1)     processes for which little knowledge of chemical factors of occupational health exists, because these will be elucidated systematically and dealt with,

2)     processes with many chemical products, because this opens up several possibilities for substitution,

3)     processes with many types of design,

4)     processes for which alternative processes exist, and

5)     selection and development of new technology, because potential hazards due to chemicals are systematically worked through.


Further I find for substitution in industry that a process-based method is a very good tool for a qualitative improvement of occupational health. It is important to have a broad knowledge of processes in industry. For successful substitution it is necessary to be in a dialogue and cooperation with designers, constructors, technicians of production, and producers/suppliers of chemical products and of new processes because substitution often requires changes in equipment, working methods, work organization, etc.


2) A method based on functional analysis

This method (5) is developed in practical work in the Danish Occupational Health Service. The method focuses on describing the basic requirement to be met by the chemical product that should be replaced. New ideas to meet the requirements could be achieved using brainstorm or more systematic search routines.


Specific Methods

1) Chemicals to chemicals substitution is included in the general methods, but it has been especially developed. and restricted beforehand to only less hazardous chemicals in the same process.


2) The SUBTEC-method (6) is applied for substitution between organic solvents. The method is based on solubility parameters and TLVs for each organic solvent and is especially useful in the cases where the general methods have not given possibilities of substitution without the use of organic solvents.


3) The code number of products (8,9,10) is used for substitution between construction paints.



In the following I will present the experience with substitution of organic solvents and some other chemicals.


Organic solvents

WHO’s definition of organic solvents is (11): “The term organic solvents is a generic name for a group of chemical compounds or mixtures which are liquid in the temperature range of approximately 0 - 250° C. They are volatile and relatively chemically inert. Solvents are used industrially to extract, dissolve or suspend materials not soluble in water (e.g. fats, lipids, resins and polymers)....”


In the working environment organic solvents have acute effects when absorbed through the skin or inhaled. They can irritate skin, eyes and airways and cause headache, dizziness, nausea, tiredness and apathy. There are long-term effects (12) such as

carcinogenic, e. g. benzene, trichloromethane, tetrachloromethane, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, dichloromethane, 1,4-dioxane, ethyl acrylate, 2-nitropropane and styrene,

reprotoxic, e. g. benzene, ethanol, methyl glycol, toluene, xylene, styrene, ethyl glycol, tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, tetrachloromethane, dichloromethane, dimethylformamide, methylchloride, methylethylketone (MEK), methyl methacrylate, N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, white spirit, ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate and 1,1,1-trichloroethane,

allergenic, e. g. hexylene glycol, 2-propanol, methyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, propylene glycol, orange terpene oil and turpentine, and

neurotoxic effects like organic brain damage (Chronic Toxic Encephalopaty) (11,13,14,15).


In the environment organic solvents can affect aquatic and terrestric biota, produce ozone by photochemical processes in the lower stratum of the atmosphere like other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), deplete the ozone layer in the upper stratosphere (tetrachloromethane, CFC 113, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane), pollute water resources after contact with soil, and cause accidents involving fire and explosions.


By substitution of organic solvents in working environment I find it impossible only to look at the effects of occupational health. All the effects should be considered and then there are many good reasons for elimination of organic solvents.


In (12) we present the possibilities for substitution of organic solvents for 62 processes in industry. In the following I will present experience from some processes using organic solvents in manufacture of fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment:


a)   Metal Degreasing (3). By metal degreasing can be used all kinds of organic solvents. A strategy for improvement can include:


1) Is degreasing necessary in the actual case? Is it possible to modify the preceding process? What is the demand for cleanness of the metal surface raised by the successive process? An example: The use of precoated sheets would reduce or eliminate the need for degreasing. The specialized shops which produce precoated sheets have much better opportunities for substitution, automation and encapsulation than ordinary workshops where also a number of surface processes will be avoided. Further the joining processes may have to be more gentle -  avoiding welding, soldering, brazing and bonding with adhesives - for especially developed mechanical joints (16).


2) Can the composition of the contamination of the metal surface be modified so that waterbased degreasing agents can be used? Producer/suppliers of chemicals products such as lubricants, cutting fluids and corrosion protection layers can often give this information.


2)     In figure 2 we present the possibilities for substitution of metal degreasing (3).


Figure 2

 Figure 2.  Structure of metal degreasing and possibilities for substitution


Examples (the numbers refer to figure 2):

1)      Substitution to aqueous alkaline solution with pH as low as possible.

2)      When the number of items is high, substitution from manual degreasing with kerosene to mechanized degreasing such as high pressure hosing with hot alkaline solution in a closed system for example in car repair workshops.

3)     If it is not technically possible to substitute to aqueous solutions, substitution should be made to less hazardous organic solvents such as aliphatic hydrocarbons as high boiling as possible.

4)     Substitution, especially in the electroplating industry, from vapor degreasing to lye boiling by use of one more vessel.

5)     The predominat substitution from vapor degreasing with trichloroethylene to high pressure hosing with hot alkaline solution in a closed system.

6)     By dipping substitution to aqueous alkaline solutions.

7)     Substitution from dipping with organic solvents, for example xylene, to the more effective high pressure hosing.

8)     By dipping: If it is not technically possible to substitute to aqueous solutions, substitution should be made to less hazardous organic solvents such as aliphatic hydrocarbons as high boiling as possible.

9)     In repair shops, substitution can be made from lye boiling to the more effective high pressure hosing.


In Denmark it took 10 years to reduce the use of trichloroethylene to half (17) - in spite of a great effort from grass roots movements of workers and academics and a big Danish company influenced by the German Order (18) prohibiting the use of trichloroethylene for metal degreasing. Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour has in 1995 confirmed in an answer (4) to the Parliaments commitee for labour market that she will not work for prohibiting the use of chloronated organic solvents such as the carcinogenic trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene for metal degreasing in Denmark.

This big company has reported that a specific substitution of trichloroethylene for vapour degreasing to water-based agent for high pressure hosing with an acceptable quality of degreasing has reduced the costs and the use of water from 0,269 to 0,155 m3/charge and energy from 17,7 to 12,4 kW/charge.


By substitution from organic solvents to water-based degreasing agent there is a change from 100% organic solvent e.g. trichloroethylene, to a ready-for-use aqueous solution containing 99% water and hazardous chemicals from 0,01 to 0,1%. This means that there is a great difference in potential hazards between the final and the initial situation.


4) Water-based metal degreasing agents should be formulated so that the effects on occupational health and the environment are minimized, and the use of chemicals and water is reduced by recycling (17). This could be used as a model for reformulation of less hazardous chemical products. In waterbased degreasing products are alkaline agents, complexing agents, corrosion inhibitors, surfactants, etc. Here I will only present one example about complexing agents e.g. NTA or EDTA. The final solution: By recycling the use of water is so small that demineralized water can be used thus eliminating the necessity for the use of complexing agents. By waterbased cutting fluids this has already happened. And in both cases technical problems have also been solved. (For the other types of chemicals in waterbased degreasing products see (17)).


5) By recycling (17) a reformulated degreasing agent in a microfiltration unit it was possible by acceptable quality of cleanness to increase the service life of the bath 5 times, and to reduce the use of chemicals such as the builder component to 20%, the surfactant component to 30%, and water utilization for setting up bath to 20%. Further, process down time has been decreased for emptying and setting up bath, thereby also reducing the attendant occupational health and safety risks.


b)     Bonding with adhesives (16). The process of bonding can be described by the following steps:

1. pretreatment of items e. g. degreasing where organic solvents can be substituted with waterbased degreasing agent,

2. bonding with adhesive and

3. cleansing of items and tools after bonding which depends on the type of adhesive. Water, organic solvents or mechanical methods such as scraping off, grinding or blasting are used. Instead of using organic solvents, cured adhesives should be removed by mechanical means.


By the work with substitution of organic solvents in connection with adhesives it has been necessary to include hazardous binders to make the work meaningful. By bonding with adhesives are used organic solvents (1,1,1-trichloroethane, toluene, dichloromethane, ethanol, xylene, methyl methacrylate, styrene, MEK, acetone) and hazardous binders (polyesters (styrene), acrylates, epoxy resins, polyurethanes (isocyanates)). It has been possible to group the 10 most used adhesives according to their potential hazard (16). The possibilities of substitution going from more hazardous to less harzardous level are presented in figure 3.


Figur 3,15

 Figure 3.  Bonding with levels of hazards


Exemples of substitution:

1)     From solvent-based adhesive to waterbased adhesive for bonding metal foil to metal foil for production of radiators.

2)     From polyester (styrene) adhesives to silicone adhesives in combination with sealing for bonding surface material, e.g. rubber, to metal in machines used in plastic industry.

3)     For body work in aluminium from epoxy resin, cyanoacrylate and silicone adhesives to double-sided adhesives tape based on acrylates.

4)     Instead of using anaerobic adhesives for locking thread and nut, auto-locking nuts can be used (mechanical joining).

5)     A cover was formerly secured by bonding with adhesive over some bars in a setbox to prevent the users from putting their fingers into the box. By new design the distance between the bars has now been made smaller, so there is no need for a cover and for joining.


Technicians in production are interested to avoid bonding with adhesives because they have experienced technical problems with the control of the process. This fact should be used also from a point of view of occupational health to avoid bonding with adhesives, especially in the phase of design and construction of new products. Bonding with adhesives makes repair and recycling of items and materials difficult.


c) In the electronics industry (19) it is possible at the same time to substitute CFC 113 and other organic solvents used in vapour phase soldering

using soldering in an infra-red belt oven or

wave soldering in a closed system with an inert gas such as nitrogen,

and with removal of residues after soldering

1.   by eliminating removal

using flux with a low residue content or

using wave soldering in a closed system with an inert gas such as nitrogen, and

2.  removal with demineralized water using water-soluble flux.

Some workshops have changed to orange terpene oil for environmental reasons. However, orange terpene oil is an organic solvent, has allergenic effect (12) and can cause accidents involving fire and explosions, so its use should be avoided (19).


d) In manual thread-cutting and drilling in stainless steel cutting fluids based on 1,1,1-trichloroethane can be substituted with rapeseed oil (20).


e) In lubrication of machine elements e.g. chainwheels and chains, lubricants containing all types of organic solvents e.g. 1,1,1-trichloroethane or white spirit, can be replaced with lubricants based on white mineral oil or other types of lubricants without organic solvents (21).


Conclusion for organic solvents

Organic solvents are hazardous to humans and nature, so the use of them should be avoided. For organic solvents we find it technically possible to substitute them. Many good technical alternatives already exist or can quickly be developed. But an elimination of organic solvents in a foreseeable future is more complicated because the change of the old attitudes is difficult.  In the most successful example (the construction paints) it took 20 years to eliminate the last half of the organic solvents. In metal degreasing it took 10 years to reduce the use of trichloroethylene to half. In the cleaning of offset printing machines it took 5 years to change one third of the workshops from organic solvents to agents based on esters of vegetable oils. In all 3 cases there have been many public activities, so the difficulties for substitution in other processes may be much greater.


Therefore, I find that for an elimination of organic solvents it is necessary to use a way similar to the one used to substances that deplete the ozone-layer according to the Montreal Protocol. According to the Montreal Protocol (22) the  organic solvents: tetrachloromethane, CFC 113, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane are prohibited from 1996. I find that the Montreal Protocol could be a model for a serious work with the other organic solvents. Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour (4) has in 1995 confirmed in an answer to the Parliaments Commitee for Labour Market that she will not work for that.


The program of the Danish Minister of Environment for a voluntary reduction of the use of organic solvents in industry will in practice mean little, because companies which are not motivated to do that are not forced to do anything.


Other Chemicals

In the following I will present the experience with some other chemicals than organic solvents such as epoxy resins, polyurethanes (isocyanates) and acrylates, quartz, cadmium, fluor and boron compounds, cyanides, nickel, and chromates.


Epoxy Resins, Polyurethanes (isocyanates) and Acrylates

Some technologies are introduced as alternatives to the use of organic solvents for environmental reasons, but are problematic in the working environment, e.g. UV-curing binders using acrylates that can provoke allergy in the printing industry and the wood and furniture industry, and powder coatings or waterbased paints containing epoxy resins or polyurethanes (isocyanates) that can provoke allergy and genetic changes. Provoked by an extensive public debate about the Ames’ test and the result of its use on epoxy resins in 1978 an Order (1) on products of epoxy resins, polyurethanes (isocyanates) and acrylates was introduced. The demand for substitution was here specifically mentioned for the first time. On the contrary, the activities of the Danish environmental protection authorities for a cleaner technology - only with respect to the environment - have promoted  a further use of these chemicals. The latter should according to the Order be eliminated in the working environment. The only knowledge about substitution of these chemicals I have is that there is a general tendency to replace adhesives based on this type of binders with less hazardous types of adhesives such as hot-melt or silicone adhesives, especially in the electronics industry (16).


Quartz Sand for Blasting  

In some countries, e.g. England in 1948, and Germany, Sweden, and Norway in 1970’s, a prohibition order was issued about the use of quartz sand for blasting becaused it can cause silicosis. This did not happen in Denmark -  not even when crystalline silica (quartz) came on the Danish list of carcinogenic chemicals and materials. In the manufacture of fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment there are good substitutes such as steel sand, corundum, amorphous silicate compounds, or glass powder (1). But there are also hazardous alternatives, e.g. slags with a content of heavy metals or some types of amorphous silicate compounds containing asbestos or quartz, that should not be used. An attempt to introduce a prohibition of quartz sand for blasting in Denmark was stopped in 1988. Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour has in 1995 confirmed in an answer (4) to the Parliaments committee for labour market that she will not work for a prohibition.


Cadmium-containing Agents for Soldering and Brazing 

Cadmium has carcinogenic and other long-term effects. Cadmium-containing agents for soldering and brazing have in Denmark since 1975 according to an order been prohibited to use, but not to sell. Ten years later I could establish that just 3 of the suppliers had 240 customers for these agents, although the Danish Working Environment Service only had granted 5-10 exemptions. As alternatives less hazardous cadmium-free agents for soldering and brazing are on the market. Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour has in 1995 confirmed in an answer (4) to the Parliaments Committee for Labour Market that she will not work for a total prohibition.


Fluor and Boron Compounds in Flux by Brazing  

By brazing (1), less hazardous designs of the process exist where the use of fluxes containing fluor and boron compounds with reprotoxic effects is avoided, e.g. 1. in a vacuum oven with a brazer of copper, 2. in a furnace with reducing atmosphere, and 3. particularly for items of copper and brass with a brazer of silver-copper-phosphorus.



Cyanides have long-term effects such as reprotoxic and neurotoxic effects. In the electroplating industry (1) there are good possibilities to avoid the use of cyanides by electrodegreasing, e.g. using a solution of (pyro)phosphate, and by electroplating of zinc using an alkaline cyanide-free solution.



The use of nickel with carcinogenic, reprotoxic and allergenic effects should as a general principle be avoided. In many workshops electroplating with nickel is only applied for cosmetic reasons without any technical purpose, but it is difficult to change the attitude. Otherwise electroplating with nickel can be replaced with electroplating with tin or by the use of stainless steel as the material of construction (1). Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour has in 1995 confirmed in an answer (4) to the Parliaments Committee for Labour Market that she will not work for a regulation of electroplating with nickel.



Chromates with carcinogenic, reprotoxic and allergenic effects can technically be replaced with the less hazardous chrom(III)-compounds in electroplating of chromium for decoration (1). But it is difficult to change the attitude. Politically, the Danish Minister of Labour (4) has in 1995 confirmed in an answer to the Parliaments Committee for Labour Market that she will not work for a regulation of electroplating with chromates.


Further for the electroplating industry, the program of the Danish Minister of Environment for cleaner technology concluded not in qualitative changes as in serious work with cleaner technology but in quantitative changes such as to follow over time the concentration of, e.g. nickel, in waste water. So there is no help here for an improvement in the working environment in the electroplating industry.


Social and political experiences

The Danish National Institute of Occupational Health (23) shows that the working environment and health have not been improved from 1990-95 in Denmark. Accidents and deaths at work have increased.


In 1993 Litske (1), research manager at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin, concludes based on four reports (1): “The main impression from these reports is that the size of the exposures in the working environment in Denmark has unfortunately been rather constant during the last 10-12 years. The pattern of exposures has, however, changed a good deal. Where the research has been concentrated it has paid off. The number of brain damages has thus decreased significantly as a result of professional efforts against exposures (so there is also something good in the state of Denmark!). Otherwise the situation is status quo in the other chemical areas as well as for dust, smoke, and draught. On the other hand the problems have increased somewhat in relation to noise, repetitive/monotonous motions and straining work positions. In the psycho-social area the situation is much worse,....’


In 1980’s a myth developed that the working environment in Denmark should be much better than in other countries.  The European Foundation for Improvement of Living and Work Conditions (24) could not confirm that in 1996.


The only positive effect in the last 20 years is the decrease in number of brain damages caused by organic solvents which is mainly due to the extensive interest in this subject from grassroot movements of workers and academics. As a result of the students’ movement about 1970 in Denmark a cooperation of workers and academics was initiated about the improvement of the working environment. A number of reports were written, especially about hazardous chemicals, e.g. organic solvents. This revealed that the standard of the occupational health was of an extremely low level and that the social democratic party/labor unions had very little interest in safety and health at work.


Personally I also experienced about 1980 the low level in Denmark comparing the existing institutions in visiting Sweden and Finland. Most astonishing was in Sweden an education to safety engineer existing for the last 15 years - still not established in Denmark. In Sweden there existed no grassroot movement because there was not the same need.


This had an influence on the public opinion resulting in a new working environment law in 1975. The law was only a framework which later on should be filled in. The results of this law I have just presented.


The Danish Minister of Labour (1) gave in 1990 some figures for different countries for expenditure to research and development in working environment. Converted into Danish crowns per inhabitant the figures are: Denmark 2, Germany 7, Finland 10, and Sweden 22. (6 Dkr =1USD). With this low level in Denmark it has always been difficult to raise money from the Danish Working Environmental Fund (AMF) which has a political board attaching a political steering committee to each project. Politically it is today  impossible to work seriously with substitution in Denmark.


All Danish politicians are verbally very positive on a general level. But by introducing regulations and prohibitions that could have positive effects in reality the attitude is very negative as I have given specific examples of earlier for the Minister of Labour (4), Jytte Andersen, from the Social Democratic party (a "Labor party").


The Danish Working Environment Service has only resources to visit companies every fourth year. By seriously working it should be at least every year. Since 1987 the Danish Working Environment Service has collected examples of substitution. But nothing has been published inspiring companies and qualifying the work of the Service as the intention was.


The employer’s associations have been against all activities for improvement of occupational health in reality. But the employees in these organisations are verbal very positive on a general non-committal level. Some few companies have been positive which has been a good help for me in my research. Further there is very little risk for employers with bad working environment for fine and punishment comparing with other kind of injures or killing of man. The highest fine for continued accidents with deaths on the most bad working conditions is about 200000 Dkr=30000 USD. An amount many times saved for the company with nothing to do in the working environment. Lately, saving 400 million Dkr, employer’s associations have got the parliament to eliminate the economic basis for the Danish Occupational Health Service.


The head of the unions has never taken the health and safety of their members seriously. The Federation of Danish Trade Unions refuse to formulate a policy for the working environment. The Federation has always recommended my research projects to AMF, but never worked for realizing the results. Also the Danish Metal Worker Union have showed no interest in my work and improvement of health and safety for their members. Some local unions have worked for improvement of occupational health mostly in cooperation with academics.


EU has done very little about working environment, and there is a decreasing activity in the last years as presented by R. Haigh, DG V at the conference: Elimination of organic solvents, Paris, December 1996. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao, Spain, has not presented any works of substitution. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin has presented reports (24) on the state of working environment in EU and the member countries. One of the conclusions is that the existing knowledge is not used, and the solutions are not realized.


With the directive 90/394/EEC substitution of hazardous chemicals only with carcinogenic effects was introduced in EU. But the EU labeling and classification system and data sheets make, as earlier mentioned, the work for substitution very difficult. No activities about substitution have been done in EU, and my experience is that it is impossible to raise money for research. Of more interest in EU is biological monitoring, where workers instead of hazardous chemicals are replaced.



The low level of occupational health is secured by expressing a general non-committal positive attitude to occupational health and in reality by doing as little as possible. Especially Denmark is a pioneer country to avoid improvement in working environment. But the technical possibilities for improvement of working environment exist or can quickly be developed.


The main problem is to get these less hazardous technical possibilities realized to a full extent in the foreseeable future.  Technical change caused by economic reasons is accepted, but technical change for reasons based on working environment is not. The human rights for life and health for workers in working environment do not exist in reality.


The combination of a general very positive verbal attitude to occupational health, e. g. substitution, and the lack of money for research and labour protection, regulations, prohibitions, fines and punishments for employers will secure a continued bad occupational health.



1) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1995) Substitution of hazardous chemicals and the Danish experience. Occupational Hygiene, 1, 261-278  (a  review  article)

2) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1988). Substitution of dangerous chemicals by a process-based method, Staub - Reinhaltung der Luft, 48, 469-472

3) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1991). A process-based method for substitution of hazardous chemicals and its application to metal degreasing, Journal of Hazardous Waste & Hazardous Materials, 8, no 1, 69-84

4) Danish Minister of Labour (1995). The answers of question no 5-19 and 61 from the Parliments Commetee for the Labour Market. Copenhagen.

5) Goldschmidt, G. (1993). An Analytical Approach for Reducing Workplace Health Hazards through Substitution. Journal of American Industrial Hygiene Association, 54, 36-43

6) Olsen, E. et al. (1992). On the substitution of chemicals-Use of the SUBFAC-index for volatile substances. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 36, no 6, 637-52

8) Danish Working Environment Service. Executive Order on the Determination of Code Numbers. Executive Order No. 301 of 13. May 1993 (in English)

9) Danish Working Environment Service. Executive Order on Work with Code-numbered Products. Executive Order No. 302 of 13. May 1993 (in English)

10) Rheker, R. and Woelke, R. (1996). Umgang mit Beschichtungsstoffen - Produkt-code für Farben und Lacke. Berufsgenossenschaften der Bauwirtschaft (in German)

11) WHO (1985). Chronic Effects of Organic Solvents on the Central Nervous System and Diagnostic Criteria. Report on a Joint World Health Organization/Nordic Council of Ministers Working Group, Copenhagen.

12) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1992). Substitution of organic solvents. Staub - Reinhaltung der Luft,  52, 113-118

13) NIOSH (1987). Organic Solvent Neurotoxicity. Current Intelligence Bulletin no 48, Cincinnatti, OH

14) Royal Society of Chemistry (1991). Long-term Neurotoxic Effects of Paint Solvents. CEC, Luxembourg.

15) European Commission (1994). Information notices on diagnosis of occupational diseases. Health and safety. EUR 14768 EN, 110-111

16) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1993). Substitution of organic solvents and hazardous binders by bonding with adhesives in the manufacture of fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment. Staub - Reinhaltung der Luft, 53, 251-254

17) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1994) Formulation and Recycling of Water-Based Degreasing Agents: Effects on Occupational Health and Environmental Protection. Journal of Hazardous Waste & Hazardous Materials, 11, no 3, 361-370

18) F R G Ministry of Environment (1986). Order on Limitation of Emission of Volatile Chlorohydrocarbons, April 21, Bundesgesetzblatt Teil I (Bonn) (17/30 April 1986), 571- 574 (in German)

19) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1993). Vapour Phase Soldering and Removal of Flux Residues after Soldering in the Electronics Industry: Substitution of Organic Solvents. Hybrid Circuits, 30, 31-32

20) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1992). Rapeseed oil is an alternative fluid. American Machinist, 9,15-17

21) Soerensen, F. and Styhr Petersen, H.J. (1994). Nonsolvent Based Lubrication of Machine Elements. Lubrication Engineering, 50, no 1, 63-64.

22) UNEP (1992). Report of the fourth meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone-layer. UNEP/OzL.Pro 4/15, Copenhagen.

23) Borg, W. and Buhr, H. (1997). Danish Wage Earners Working Environment and Health 1990-1995 (in Danish). The Dansh National Institute of Occupational Health. Copenhagen.

24) European Foundation for Improvement of Living and Work Conditions (1996). European Survey on Working Conditions. Dublin.






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