Changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard: What You Need to Know

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Each day, American workers use tens of thousands of chemicals. Many of these chemicals pose serious health risks to employees. Yet only a small number of hazardous chemicals are regulated.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to improve safety and health protections for workers in the United States. The HCS is now in alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

The goal of this update is to provide a “coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.” This update helps you maintain a safe workplace in addition to other benefits like cost savings and higher productivity.

To help you gain a better understanding of OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard, below are answers to frequently asked questions.

What is a hazardous chemical?

OSHA defines any chemical that causes physical or health hazards. Health risks include irritation, sensitization and carcinogenicity, while physical hazards can range from flammability to corrosion to explosibility.

Who is affected by the standard?

The updated standard applies to all chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers.

Which employees are protected?

OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard protects employees who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

What are the requirements?

Under the HCS requirements, chemical manufacturers and importers are responsible for evaluating the hazards of the chemicals they produce and import. They must also provide information about the identities and hazards of chemicals used in the workplace.

To comply with the HCS standard, employers must follow four main requirements:

1. Labeling

To protect employees from chemical hazards, employers must ensure that all hazardous chemical containers are properly labeled. Labels must include a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category.

2. Safety data sheets

Employers must keep a safety data sheet (SDS) for all hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. The data sheets need to clearly communicate the risks of working with hazardous chemical products. SDSs must be available and accessible to employees at all times, even if the power fails. Additionally, the HCS requires all new SDSs to have a specified 16-section format. (You can find a detailed list of all 16 sections on OSHA’s website.)

3. Employee training

Employers must provide training and information to any employees who may come into contact with hazardous chemicals. Employers should provide employees with training and information on hazardous chemicals before they go on the job. Additional training is required when new hazards are introduced into the workplace. Employees should also receive training when they are assigned to new work areas where they could be exposed to new hazards.

Employee training should cover:

● Methods for detecting the presence of hazardous chemicals
● How to handle the chemicals appropriately
● The requirements of OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard
● Where exposure to hazardous chemicals is likely to occur
● The physical and health hazards associated with the chemicals
● How employees can protect themselves from the hazards
● The details of the hazards communication program (see #4 below)

General training on chemical hazards isn’t enough. Employees need to be aware of the hazards their specific work area presents, so they can take measures to protect themselves.

4. Written hazard communication program

If your facility works with hazardous chemicals, you must provide your employees with a written hazard communication program. This program should include labels on containers of hazardous chemicals, SDSs for hazardous chemicals and training for workers. Employers must also describe how they plan to meet the requirements of the HCS.

For more information on improving chemical safety in the workplace, see OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard or contact H.M. Royal.

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