OSHA Hazard Communication Standard | GBE&W

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OSHA Hazard Communication Standard | GBE&W

OSHA Hazard Communication Standard
Chemicals pose a wide range of health hazards (such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity) and physical hazards (such as flammability, corrosion, and reactivity) in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is based on the idea that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals to which they are exposed when working and what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects. To this end, OSHA requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and to provide information about them through labels on shipped containers and more detailed information sheets called material safety data sheets (MSDSs). Pursuant to the HCS, all employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must prepare and implement a written hazard communication program, and must ensure that all containers are labeled, employees are provided access to MSDSs, and an effective training program is conducted for all potentially exposed employees.

Note: OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard on March 26, 2012, aligning it with the United Nations’ global chemical labeling system.

The HCS covers all employers and employees within OSHA’s jurisdiction exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Written Program

Covered employers must establish a comprehensive written hazard communication program that includes provisions for container labeling, MSDSs, and an employee-training program. The program must contain a list of the hazardous chemicals in each work area and a method for informing employees of the hazards of various tasks.

The written program need not be lengthy or complicated, but must be available to employees, their designated representatives, the Assistant Secretary of OSHA, and the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Hazard Evaluation
Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to review the available scientific evidence concerning the hazards of chemicals they produce or import, and to report the information they find to their employees and to employers purchasing their products. Those employers may rely on the evaluation performed by the manufacturers or importers when establishing compliance programs for the hazardous chemicals purchased. Employers must conduct their own evaluations for hazardous chemicals created in their workplaces.

Each chemical is to be evaluated for its potential for adverse health effects and physical hazards. Certain chemicals are listed in the standard as hazardous in all cases. When evaluating chemicals, an employer must describe, in writing, the procedures used to determine the possible hazards. These procedures must be made available upon request to employees, their designated representatives, OSHA, and NIOSH.

Labels and Other Forms of Warnings
With a few exceptions, each appropriate container in the workplace must be identified as a hazardous chemical and include appropriate warnings. The term container includes stationary processing equipment in the workplace. Exceptions to the labeling procedures are the following:

  • Employers can post signs with information for a number of containers within a single work area that have similar hazards.
  • Various types of written materials can be substituted for container labels on stationary equipment if they contain the same information as a label and are readily available to employees in the work area.
  • Employers are not required to label portable containers used by only one person on a single shift.
  • Employers are not required to label pipes or piping systems.

Material Safety Data Sheets
Chemical manufacturers and importers must develop MSDSs for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. An MSDS is a technical bulletin intended to be the primary vehicle for transmitting information about a hazardous chemical to affected employers and employees. Each MSDS must be in English and include the following:

  • The specific chemical identity and common names of the chemical.
  • The physical and chemical characteristics of the material.
  • The known health effects of the chemicals.
  • Limits of exposure permitted under OSHA.
  • Whether the chemical is considered to be a carcinogen.
  • Safe handling procedures.
  • Emergency and first aid procedures.
  • The identification of the organization responsible for preparing the MSDS.

Employers are responsible for obtaining or developing an MSDS for each hazardous chemical used in their workplaces. Copies must be readily available to employees and must be made available to an employee’s designated representative and to OSHA inspectors.

Employee Information and Training
Employers must establish a training and information program for employees exposed to hazardous chemicals in their work areas at the time of initial assignment and whenever a new hazard is introduced into their work area. The program must include the following:

  • The requirements of the standard.
  • The employer’s hazard communication program.
  • The location of hazardous chemicals in an employee’s work area.
  • The location of evaluation procedures, list of hazardous chemicals, and required MSDSs.
  • How to read and interpret information on labels and MSDSs.
  • The physical and health hazards of the chemicals in the employee’s work area.
  • Protective measures for employees to take against hazards, including the use of protective equipment.
  • Methods to be used to detect the presence of a hazardous chemical.

Employers should make their labeling system MSDSs known to contractors who come on site to do work, so they may instruct their employees as to the chemical hazards they may encounter. Likewise, the employer should ask the contractor for its MSDSs and labeling system so that the employer may protect its employees from chemical hazards brought on site. (Contracts often dictate this disclosure as a requirement between prime and subcontractors.)

OSHA has published a Draft Model Training Program for Hazard Communication, which provides detailed guidance for employers on how to comply with the HCS.

Trade Secrets
A trade secret is a specific chemical formula, process, or make-up that gives an employer an advantage over competitors. Disclosure of trade secrets may, therefore, be limited to health professionals, employees, and their designated representatives under specified conditions of need and confidentiality. The extent to which employers must disclose trade secret information depends on whether a medical emergency exists or not.