Hazard Communication: What You Need to Know

The Hazard Communication Standard, first established by OSHA in the 1980s, establishes requirements to make sure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into or used in U.S. workplaces are evaluated, and that this hazard information is transmitted to exposed employees.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is now aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This update to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) provides a coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.

About 32 million workers work with and are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards, especially in the construction industry. Chemical exposure may cause or contribute to many serious health effects such as heart ailments, central nervous system, kidney and lung damage, sterility, cancer, burns, and rashes. Some chemicals may also be safety hazards and have the potential to cause fires and explosions and other serious accidents.

The hazard communication standard is different from other OSHA health rules because it covers all hazardous chemicals. The rule also incorporates a “downstream flow of information,” which means that producers of chemicals have the primary responsibility for generating and disseminating information, whereas users of chemicals must obtain the information and transmit it to their own employees.

The chemical manufacturers and importers are responsible for the quality of the hazard determinations they perform. Each chemical must be evaluated for its potential to cause adverse health effects and its potential to pose hazards such as flammability. (Definitions of hazards covered are included in standard 1910.1200(c).)

Written Hazard Communication Programs

A written hazard communication program ensures that all employers receive the information they need to inform and train their employees properly and to put in place employee protection programs. It also provides necessary hazard information to employees, so they can participate in the protective measures in place at their workplaces.

A written, comprehensive hazard communication program includes provisions for container labeling, collection and availability of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and an employee training program. Safety Data Sheets now have a specified 16-section format.

For training purposes, employees must be aware of the protective measures available in their workplace, how to use or implement these measures, and whom they should contact if an issue arises.

If the workplace has multiple employers onsite, as on construction sites, the rule requires these employers to ensure that information regarding hazards and protective measures be made available to the other employers onsite. Again, the written hazard communication program should include current information on labels on containers, Material Safety Data Sheets, and training.

Material Safety Data Sheets

Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to convey the hazard information they learn from their evaluations to downstream employers by means of labels on containers and MSDSs.

The MSDS is a detailed information bulletin prepared by the manufacturer or importer of a chemical that describes the physical and chemical properties, physical and health hazards, routes of exposure, precautions for safe handling and use, emergency and first-aid procedures, and control measures.

For more information on developing a site-specific hazardous communication program, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.

 

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