Removing chemical risk from leather-making

17 April 2018

The potential for chemicals used in the leather industry to pollute or cause harm means that robust chemical management processes must be high on the list of priorities for tanneries, factories and brands. A new course can help the industry to pool best practices and improve performance, having a huge impact, not only on safety, but also on profitability and supply chain integrity.Eric Wang, global softlines chemical services manager at SGS, tells Jim Banks more.

Every stage of the leather-making process revolves around the use of chemicals to treat, colour or finish hides to produce quality leather on which many parts of the apparel industry depend.

From biocides and chromium sulphate in the beamhouse, to pigments and lacquers in the finishing process, the list of chemicals is seemingly endless, and their safe management is of prime importance to any supplier or brand concerned with the quality of the end product and the integrity of their supply chain.

The aim is to not only provide knowledge, but also a toolkit to manage chemicals, perform risk assessments and achieve regulatory compliance. The forum is a practical and informative workshop for trained professionals in the leather industry.

The use of certain chemicals and their effects on tannery workers and consumers is frequently in the spotlight in the leather industry. The European Chemicals Agency, for instance, has looked closely at the use of chromium VI, which was once commonly used throughout the tanning industry, and has restricted its use under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals directive. The substance has also been identified as a recognised human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency, WHO and other regulatory bodies.

As the industry and its complex supply chain come under more intense scrutiny, there is a concerted effort to ensure high standards of safety, efficiency and quality are maintained throughout all stages of the process, from raw hide to finished product. With this in mind, SGS – the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company – has stepped up to design an intensive training course to equip managers and supervisors with the skills required for chemical management.

Learning is key

The Hazardous Substance Control (HSC) leather workshop was developed to equip professionals in the leather and footwear industries with up-to-date knowledge and best practices in chemical management.

“The aim is to not only provide knowledge, but also a toolkit to manage chemicals, perform risk assessments and achieve regulatory compliance,” says Eric Wang, global softlines chemical services manager at SGS. “The forum is a practical and informative workshop for trained professionals in the leather industry.”

The new training programme follows on from a similar workshop devised for the textile industry, which has been a great success since it was first launched two years ago.

“We have partnered with global corporates with operations in many countries including China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Cambodia, Spain and Ethiopia, and have given the training to thousands of managers from suppliers and brands,” continues Wang.

“We have developed local HSC trainers who can deliver the workshop in various local languages. This can make the knowledge absorption much easier for the participants, and facilitates best practice and toolkit implementation after the workshop.

“We got very good feedback and those same people asked us to devise training specifically for the leather industry, as leather is such a common material in the fashion industry.”

Prevention, control and review

The HSC workshop is broken down into three distinct modules, each of which examines a key stage in the product cycle. Each module contains process-specific training that is customised to those stages – including beamhouse, tanning, post-tanning and finishing – and comes with specially designed practical tools that enable participants to conduct risk assessments in factories.

The content of the workshop is designed to be easy to understand, with complex technical knowledge translated into the language of the industry, so that it can be simply and directly applied to daily operations.

The one-day workshop equips participants with an understanding of the chemical flow management methodology and toolkit, which together enable assessments of chemical risk at each stage of leather production. The toolkit itself focuses on the tracking, recording and measurement of chemical use to improve the transparency of chemical management processes.

The first section of the workshop looks at the input phase, where the keyword is ‘prevention’. “This module includes a risk assessment of each chemical, and its goal is to keep harmful chemicals out of the chemical inventory,” explains Wang.

“Then comes the in-process stage, where we focus on ‘control’. The final stage is output, where the keyword is ‘review’, and the aim is to ensure quality and compliance so that the goods can be sold.

“After the workshop, companies will be able to identify many ways to improve their processes, and the toolkit will allow them to implement the best practices that have emerged. It is essential to have [not only] the knowledge, but also [to] be able to implement it in a meaningful way,” he adds.

A blueprint for better processes

The material covered in the intensive workshop is brought to life in ways that make the learning process experiential as well as theoretical.

“We use real case studies from the industry, including serious failures of controls,” explains Wang. “Part of the reason is that we want to make the workshop learner friendly and interesting. So we have a factory simulation game, and let the participants solve problems and case studies together. The case studies are combined with the real scenarios to encourage people to identify the risks based knowledge and the information we have provided.”

The one-day workshop equips participants with an understanding of the chemical flow management methodology and toolkit, which together enable assessments of chemical risk at each stage of leather production.

Here, Wang is pointing out the wider implications of the intensive training course, which go beyond the day-to-day operations of a single factory. Instilling an understanding of risk analysis and performance improvement into key individuals within a tannery or a factory can have a ripple effect throughout the supply chain.

“In the output section, a case study on root cause analysis of the concerned chemicals will be part of the workshop content. Identifying the chemicals that result in the most failures allows a brand to see which suppliers are involved in those failures and might have a space for improvement,” he explains.

“After all, repeated failure can have a high cost. With three simple steps for chemical flow management, we can help make the process much less complex.

Once the three steps have been learned, they can be used continuously to develop better management procedures, build a good chemical inventory and much more.”

Training curriculum

  • Designed and approved by academics and industry experts: course attendees will experience the latest best practices and expertise in the training.
  • Condensed practical content: materials are presented in a way that ensures complex technical processes can be easily understood.
  • Small group workshop: class sizes will better aid group discussion and interaction.
  • Training syllabus and materials: course content is customised for specific manufacturing processes.


  • Dynamic group of experts: located in different countries, SGS textile and chemical industry experts are technically aligned to ensure consistency of training.
  • Multidisciplinary trainers: with many years of industry experience, trainers bring the latest best practices into the course.
  • Participating in reputable industry associations: many of the SGS trainers have contributed to technical committees for standard drafting.

Programme takeaway

  • Certificate: participants are awarded certification upon passing assessment after post-training.
  • Practical toolkit: toolkits are provided to participants to conduct risk assessment at daily operations
  • Assessments: tests occur before and after training so improvement can be quantifiably measured.

Source: SGS

Pathway to becoming a HSC professional

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.