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Views on chemical safety information and influences on chemical disposal behaviour in the UK

The Science of The Total Environment
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.10.056
  • Chemical Supply Chain
  • Environment
  • Labelling Schemes
  • Risk Communication
  • Cognitive Profiles
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Abstract This study examined how groups representing four tiers in the chemical supply chain (manufacturers, vendors, workers and consumers) understood safety information, and the factors that influenced disposal behaviour. Data from seven, semi-structured, focus groups was analysed both qualitatively (textual analysis) and quantitatively (network analysis). Such combined analytical methods enabled us to achieve both detailed insights into perceptions and behaviour and an objective understanding of the prevailing opinions that occurred within and between the focus group discussions. We found issues around awareness, trust, access and disposal behaviours differed between groups within the supply chain. Participants from the lower tiers perceived chemical safety information to be largely inaccessible. Labels were the main source of information on chemical risks for the middle and bottom tiers of the supply chain. Almost all of the participants were aware of the St Andrew's Cross and skull and crossbones symbols but few were familiar with the Volatile Organic Compound logo or the fish and tree symbol. Both the network and thematic analysis demonstrated that whilst frequent references to health risks associated with chemicals were made environmental risks were usually only articulated after prompting. It is clear that the issues surrounding public understanding of chemical safety labels are highly complex and this is compounded by inconsistencies in the cognitive profiles of chemical users. Substantially different cognitive profiles are likely to contribute towards communication difficulties between different tiers of the supply chain. Further research is needed to examine the most effective ways of communicating chemical hazards information to the public. The findings demonstrate a need to improve and simplify disposal guidance to members of the public, to raise public awareness of the graphic symbols in the CHIP 3.1, 2005 regulations and to improve access to disposal guidance.

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