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Article related to: People and perspectives
Communicating good advice on chemicals to citizens: the Danish model
A recent study shows that the general public in Denmark is able to recognise new labelling pictograms more often than in other EU countries. ECHA contracted the study to fulfil its duties under the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation and submitted a final report to the European Commission in January 2012. Denmark has invested in awareness raising activities over several years. ECHA Newsletter interviewed Christel Søgaard Kirkeby, Communications Officer in the Danish Ministry of Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, to find out more about the Danish model.
Can you tell us about the Danish model?
We have had campaigns to raise the general public's awareness on chemicals for many years. As a part of the Danish Chemicals Action Plan, we have had an annual campaign since 2006 and since 2010 we have had two campaigns each year. The subjects and the target group vary. For instance we have made campaigns for teenagers on perfume and hair dye, for pregnant women on reducing exposure to chemicals, and for "do it yourself" people also on reducing exposure to chemicals.
What type of material have you used?
We have published web pages, print and online advertisements and leaflets as well as organising competitions and PR-events. We have also produced online video clips. One of them is a movie about superheroes to raise awareness for the new labelling pictograms.
Danes recognised the "old" pictograms more often than other EU citizens. What do you think is the reason for this?
Our campaign on the labelling of chemicals for which we produced the video clips mainly focused on the old symbols, and the information on the labels. A small part of the recognition of the old labels can be attributed to this campaign. In general, chemicals have received great attention in our media and political scene, which means that Danes are very often informed about chemicals and risks. For many years there has also been a great effort in Danish work places on chemicals, the use of safety data sheets and the substitution of substances, and the Danish Consumer Council and the Danish Information Centre for Environment and Health have done great work in informing people about chemicals. I also believe the schools and education system have played an important role.
In the Eurobarometer, Danish respondents recognised the new pictograms quite well. But only a few people were able to tell what they mean. What do you think about that?
It is not surprising that the understanding rate of the new pictograms is not very high. For instance, the new exclamation mark pictogram can not be understood logically. When we made our campaign on hazard labels in 2009, it was also a bit too early to raise awareness because the new pictograms were not yet in use. So our main aim was to highlight the importance of following the safety precautions on the label. With regard to the high recognition, I suspect that people believe they have seen for instance the exclamation mark before because they mistake the pictogram for the traffic symbol that looks somewhat similar. To raise the understanding of the pictograms takes time, and is an area that needs further effort over the coming years. For instance, we have, together with the other Nordic countries, made an online quiz on the new pictograms. The quiz has been quite popular on our website.
What has been the expected impact of your campaigns?
Normally, we carry out a survey to measure peoples' knowledge, attitude and behaviour before and after each campaign. The expected impact has been different for each campaign. When the target groups have been small and specific we have expected to reach 20-40% of the target audience. However, when a campaign has targeted the general public we have aimed lower; intending to reach 10% of the target group. Our 2009 campaign on labelling aimed to raise awareness on the hazard labelling in general and also introduced the new pictograms. After the campaign, 9% of the Danish population remembered it. In general, people appreciate gaining knowledge and good advice from our campaigns, and it also helps in changing behaviour, so risk communication is a worthwhile activity.
- Danish campaigns (in Danish)
- Danish campaigns translated into English
- Danish campaign on hazard labelling
- Study on Communication on the safe use of chemicals to the General Public, submitted to the European Commission on 20 January 2012:
- Special Eurobarometer 360 – Chemical Products
- Guidance on the communication of information on the risks and safe use of chemicals
Interview by Pia Fallström Mujkic
Image coyright: Danish Ministry of the Environment
ECHA carried out a "study on the communication of information to the general public on the safe use of substances and mixtures and the potential need for additional information on labels" as defined in the CLP Regulation (Art. 24 (1)). It consisted of two complementary pillars: qualitative research and quantitative work in the form of a Eurobarometer study on consumer understanding of labels and the safe use of chemicals.
The main findings of the study are that the new CLP pictograms are not well recognised by the general public, people often misunderstand them and that awareness raising activities are needed at national level.
Recent Danish campaigns
- 2005: Multiple chemicals sensitivity
- 2006: Good chemistry to pregnant and nursing mothers
- 2007: Indoor climate
- 2008: Teenagers and skin allergy from perfume, hair dye and henna tattoos
- 2009: Hazard labelling (pictograms)
- 2010: Mercury in energy-saving light bulbs
- 2010: Do it yourself products
- 2011: Teenagers and skin allergy from perfume, hair dye and henna tattoos
- 2011: Chemicals in clothes
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