EU poison centres and the current CLP debate

Posted by Jon Gibbard on 10 February 2014

In Europe, there is a requirement under REACH to include emergency telephone numbers on SDS and, where a Member State has appointed an official advisory body (as defined under CLP Article 45), the telephone number for this body must also be included to cover medical advice. Please see the latest guidance from ECHA here (P42)

Although this may appear to be a relatively straightforward requirement, it’s not as simple as it sounds in reality. There are a number of factors that can cause confusion. For example, an emergency telephone number is required to cover each country where a company supplies a product for sale. However, some countries do not have telephone numbers available for a national centre, so an alternative number is required.

If a country’s poison centre(s) is not an official advisory body, suppliers can provide their own emergency telephone number as long as certain conditions are met. For example, in Germany, qualified medical advice in emergency cases must be provided in German. It is also acceptable for suppliers to include their own emergency telephone number to cover countries where an official advisory body has been appointed. This means that an effective response to all types of emergency incident can be provided.

The following diagram is designed to help you make the right decision for your organisation.

Having access to a poison centre for medical advice alone does not negate the need to provide an emergency number for a chemical incident where other information might be required or where a company’s emergency procedure needs to be enacted. The checklist above highlights what you should consider when implementing your own system.

A list of national advisory bodies and telephone numbers has been made available by ECHA to try to clarify the appropriate number to use. However, not all Member States have provided a number though. Some countries (e.g. Cyprus, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovenia) do not have telephone numbers for official national advisory bodies or poison centres listed. In addition, the poison centres in some countries – including Ireland and the Netherlands – are only open to medical professionals, so members of the public and professional users cannot call these centres. Your SDS will need to state this.

So, an SDS could end up with a long list of numbers on it (for each country where the product is supplied) – including the company’s own number or the number of a third-party organisation that provides advice on the company’s behalf in case of a chemical emergency. This does not make it easy for the correct number to be identified in an emergency. It is also a considerable challenge to ensure that SDSs are registered with all organisations that may be called on when an incident occurs to ensure that they have up-to-date product information. To comply with CLP article 45, the only alternative would be to have a national centre for Europe or numbers that routed to national centres based on a caller’s origin.

Discussions are taking place about the burden this places on organisations. Moves have been suggested (consultation stage at the moment) to streamline the process by submitting data through one central system as opposed to individual poison centres. At present individual Member States is that they have different registration requirements and some require a fee for this registration before their number can be used. In a recent article by NCEC for Chemical Watch, the UK’s Chemical Industries Association highlighted the need to carefully review the administrative burden on companies and poison centres, and the need to ensure confidentiality of data going forward. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) and a number of key stakeholder are looking at how to harmonise the process for registration with poison centres, so that individual country-by-country registration is not required. Draft legislative text is expected during 2014. 

The contractual landscape is also unclear. It appears that none of the poison centres asks ‘customers’ to sign a contract. This raises some far-reaching questions. What is the service that the poison centres/national advisory bodies provide? Can they guarantee 24/7 coverage and how do they do this? Do they have contingency plans to ensure this? How do they ensure the confidentiality of products and product data sheets? These are questions you would ask of an outsourced solution provider, but are not taken into account with current legislation or the lack of any commercial/contract arrangement between company and poison centre.

In light of these issues, Chemical Watch and NCEC are conducting a survey of poison centres and people’s experience of using them. Click here to take part in the survey. The results will be used to inform a workshop on ‘EU Poison Centres’ that will be held at Chemical Watch’s ‘Global Supply Chain Network’ event in Brussels in March. If you would like to attend please contact NCEC directly.

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