Chemical Hazards and OSHA’s Communication Standard

chemicalChemical and toxic substances pose a wide range of health and safety hazards on construction sites. From simple skin irritation to long-term carcinogenic risks, flammability and corrosion, the dangers of chemical hazards are always on the radar screen of safety managers. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is clear on the responsibility of employers to communicate to workers of the chemicals they come in contact with. Specifically, a written hazard communication standard to inform, train employees and put in place protection programs. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is two-fold: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers; employers are required to make sure employees are trained to work with chemicals that have potential hazards. As we reported earlier this year, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) were formerly referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs. For construction managers, this means:

  • Identify and list hazardous chemicals in their workplaces.
  • Obtain Safety Data Sheets and labels for each hazardous chemical, if not provided by the manufacturer, importer, or distributor.
  • Develop and implement a written hazard communication program, including labels, Safety Data Sheets, and employee training, on the list of chemicals, and label information.
  • Communicate hazard information to their employees through labels, SDSs, and formal training programs.

While each chemical substance has its own set of safety precautions, there are several terms that construction managers should become familiar with in dealing with chemical and toxic substances: Action level

  • An airborne level, typically one-half of the PEL designated in OSHA’s substance-specific standards, (29 CFR 1910, Subpart Z), calculated as an 8-hour time-weighted average, which initiates certain required activities such as exposure monitoring and medical surveillance.

Ceiling Limit

  • The exposure limit a worker’s exposure may never exceed.

Sampling and Analytical Error

  • A statistical estimate of the uncertainty associated with a given exposure measurement.

Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL)

  • The average exposure to a contaminant to which a worker may be exposed during a short time period (typically 15 – 30 minutes).

Time-Weighted Average (TWA)

  • The average exposure to a contaminant over a given period of time, typically 8-hours. For examples of how a TWA is calculated, see the OSHA Technical Manual.

When dealing with any specific chemical or airborne exposure, it is helpful to know that resources are available. To help guide you through this process, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.

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Nina McGinley

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