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Do you know the symbols on products? Learn them to prevent accidents
Every year, thousands of children in Europe have accidents with household products. Some of these could be avoided by paying attention to and knowing the packaging symbols. Here we look at how Belgian and Spanish authorities are running campaigns to try to reduce the number of accidents.
If you ever pick up a package in a shop and look at its label, you will see a small red diamond-shaped symbol that draws your attention to the possible harm caused by misusing the product. The label also gives information about the damage that the substances or mixtures in the product can cause you or the environment, as well as safety advice on what to do if you are exposed to the substance.
Since the products need to be handled with care, it is important to educate people about their dangers, and this is exactly what both the Belgian and Spanish campaigns aim to do.
Save the emoji game in Belgium
In Belgium, the advertising agency BUBKA has created an emoji game Red de emoji/Sauve l’emoji (Save the Emoji). The project was commissioned by the national authority, the FOD Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu (Federal Public Service – Health, Food Chain Safety and the Environment). “The game is part of a bigger communications campaign to educate people about the importance of the safe use of chemicals,” explains Ms Jona De Leye, Communications Officer at the FOD.
The game is available in Dutch and French and aims to teach youngsters between the ages of 10 and 14 – who are already big users of emojis in their communications – what the packaging and labelling symbols stand for.
Jona De Leye.
Reaching the youth
Each year, more than 5 000 young people in Belgium are injured in accidents involving chemical products. “Something needed to be done to prevent the accidents and we thought that the best way to reach out to young people is by giving them information in a language they understand best,” says Mr Thomas Faes, Account Manager at BUBKA.
Even though most accidents actually occur to children between the ages of 1 and 4, the government targeted 10 to 14 year-olds. “This is the age when they become aware of the products and are already capable of giving instructions to their younger siblings and recommendations to their parents,” explains Ms De Leye.
“After some research, it was clear that the best way to reach that age group was to use a means of communication that they are already familiar with – emojis, texting and instant messaging – to infiltrate their everyday lives. That is how we developed the idea of an emoji game,” adds Mr Faes.
How does the game work?
“We wanted to raise awareness about the nine symbols and the dangers they describe. Players need to save the emoji by dragging the correct symbol to the correct product,” explains Mr Faes.
Young people learn by playing, so to make the game even more attractive, a prize factor was added to encourage them to repeatedly play the game. “The more the youth play the game and keep playing it, the better they will learn the symbols. And then they can educate their families when they see the same symbols on the products their parents buy,” he adds.
BUBKA also targeted their advertising at people who follow some popular vloggers on YouTube, as many in the targeted age group are fans of the vloggers. The idea was to attract more players and spread awareness about the game even further.
Ms De Leye tells us that they plan to continue the campaign and aim to further promote the game in schools, by visiting them and providing educational material about the safe use of chemicals and the symbols. Future plans also include targeting households with small children, as well as people doing home repair work involving chemicals.
By looking at the statistics, the game has been played almost 20 000 times during the first 9 weeks of the campaign. However, it remains to be seen how successful the game will be at teaching the youth. “That is something we will hopefully see in the yearly statistics for chemicals-related accidents. We certainly hope to see a decrease, but if the game manages to prevent even one accident, it will be a success! But, of course, the goal is to make a difference both in the short term and the long term,” says Mr Faes.
|Save the Emoji is part of a campaign in Belgium to educate about the safe use of chemicals. |
Image: Belgian Federal Public Service of Health and Environment.
Ojo a la etiqueta campaign in Spain
Maria Eugenia Anta.
In Spain, the Business Federation of the Spanish Chemical Industry (Feique) and the Consumers and Users Confederation (CECU) have collaborated with the Toxicological Information Service (SIT) that operates as the national poison centre to develop a separate campaign on classification, labelling and packaging that also targets youngsters. The project has been funded by the Spanish Agency of Consumption, Food Safety and Nutrition, which is attached to the Ministry of Health (AECOSAN-MSSSI).
The Ojo a la Etiqueta: por la seguridad de los más pequeños campaign (Take a look at the label: for the safety of the youngest) aims to reduce the number of exposures and intoxications among children in Spain. It informs those taking care of children about the importance of reading the product labels, following the instructions, and using and storing products safely.
The campaign provides information about the national poison centre that is open 24/7 to respond to questions and give advice. “In the event of a poisoning with a toxic product, keeping calm and calling the poison centre can prevent unnecessary visits to health emergency services,” says Mrs Maria Eugenia Anta, Director of Internationalisation and Product Stewardship at Feique.
Mobile app for youngsters
The Spanish campaign includes a simple and intuitive mobile app that offers basic advice on what to do if there is a poisoning, including the direct contact information for the poison centre. “Youngsters often favour using new technologies so we created an app to reach them,” Mrs Anta explains. “We want to educate them on the importance of the symbols and their meanings, and, of course, to prevent accidents,” she adds.
Spreading the information
Several other products for the campaign are available from the campaign’s website including:
- a cardholder (with basic information and the poison centre's phone number) that can be attached to the back of smartphones;
- 10 downloadable training sheets with information on labelling, pictograms and home safety (including how to store, use and recycle products) and disproving false myths related to first aid;
- a calendar for 2018, each month presenting different information and tips related to labels, pictograms, safe use and storage, and the poison centre; and
- a brochure containing the main information about the campaign.
CECU also visits schools, if requested, to spread the campaign information to teachers and pupils.
To measure the success of the campaign, a range of statistics will be collected and checked – on media coverage, contact requests from schools, the number of app downloads and web page visits, as well as reports from the Twitter hashtag #OjoALaEtiqueta.
“We expect the Spanish poison centre's report for 2017 to show more calls asking for information and fewer about actual poisoning cases. This will hopefully mean that fewer unnecessary visits to health centres have occurred, which will be an indication of the campaign's success,” Mrs Anta concludes.
|Ojo a la Etiqueta aims to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals among children in Spain by informing about the importance of reading the labels and following their instructions. Image: CECU.|
Play it safe
To play it safe with chemicals, store them in the original container and keep them out of the reach of children.
Also, consider the environment before disposing the chemicals and their packaging. If a poisoning accident occurs, call 112 or contact your national poison centre.
Interviews by Satu Kimmo
Published on: 15 February 2018
Top image: © ECHA
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Committee for Risk Assessment:
25-28 November 2019 and
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Committee for Socio-Economic
26-28 November 2019 and
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