Updated: Oct 8, 2021
I am always amazed by how many employers are confused about the new Hazard Communication Standard ($1910.1200). So, in this blog I will write about how to understand this rule, what are the various parts of the standard that every employer should know about, and add a special offer at the end.
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) will provide a common approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. The HCS applies to any chemical which is known to be present in the workplace in a manner that employees may be exposed, regardless of whether the employer has created the chemical exposure.
Every employer must pay strict attention to 29 CFR §1910.1200, The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. The term “hazardous chemical” is defined very broadly (for example, table salt is included) so virtually every employer is required to observe this standard.
Chemicals pose a wide range of health hazards (such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity) and physical hazards (such as flammability, corrosion, and reactivity). OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is disseminated. This is accomplished by requiring 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 safety data sheets (SDSs).
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 SDSs, and an effective training program is conducted for all potentially exposed employees.
The HCS provides people the right-to-know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace. When employees have this information, they may effectively participate in their employer’s program and take steps to protect themselves.
Compliance Safety Health Officers (CHSOs) shall review the employer’s written hazard communication program to determine if all applicable requirements have been addressed. The HCS obligates all employers, including those on multi-employer worksites, who may expose their employees to hazardous chemicals to develop a written program.
The Hazard Communication Standard can be Broken into 4 Parts:
1.) Written Plan – You need to have a plan for your HCS program. This plan should be reflective of your workplace and the hazards that your employees face in their day-to-day working environment. The written plan needs to include a current list of all hazardous chemicals. It also must identify who is responsible for the written plan and outline how all written materials can be accessed. Next, the plan needs to describe how your facility meets the requirements for labeling, SDS management, and training. Keep in mind, the written plan is the first thing the OSHA inspector will ask for.
2.) Labels – Make sure that all the chemicals listed in your plan are labeled properly and appropriate hazard warnings are posted in your work areas. Also, make sure that you have a good secondary label program to ensure the chemicals are properly identified. In the United States, labels and warnings are only required to be printed in English. If your workforce is multi-cultural, however, you may want to consider printing in secondary languages or making use of common pictograms and symbols to more effectively communicate the hazards.
3.) Safety Data Sheets – A SDS will tell you everything you need to know from the hazards associated with a chemical, how to handle and store the chemical, to the proper personal protective equipment to use when handling the chemical. According to HCS, you must an SDS for all the chemicals in your inventory. You must make the SDSs readily accessible to your employees. And your employees must be trained on where to find and how to read the SDS, so they fully understand the risks associated with the chemicals and the protection they need to use when handling chemicals in the workplace.
4.) Training – Training is critical to make sure employees understand the hazards in their workplace and how to do their jobs safely. The HCS requires that you train your employees on where to find your written plan and SDSs. And, more importantly on how to read the SDSs, labels on containers, and warnings signs. One final note on training, which may seem obvious, but is often overlooked, make sure employees are trained before assigning them to work with hazardous chemicals.
Safety Data Sheets – As part of the new HazCom (GHS) standard, if your business uses hazardous chemicals (as opposed to manufacturing or importing them for sale to others) you need to obtain an SDS sheet on every chemical your company uses from the manufacturer, so that you can post it in the workplace and keep it in your records. One last comment, when you get new chemicals make sure you update your SDS sheets and add it.
They are created and distributed as part of a comprehensive Hazard Communication Program; 29 CFR Part 1910.1200; and
They are required as a part of any compliance obligation to be available and displayed prominently in the workplace. All your employers have a right to an SDS data sheet upon request by law!
If an employer uses an electronic system to provide employees with access to SDS sheets, then the employees need to have direct access to the SDSs in their workplaces, without having to go through anyone else to get the information. OSHA also requires a backup to electronic systems in case of power outages, disruptions of service, etc. This backup can be in the form of a master copy of SDSs kept in a central location, use of a fax-back service, the backing up of SDSs to a computer that has an external power source, or other means.
Finally, employers using an electronic system must also be able to immediately produce a paper copy of the SDS sheet upon request of an employee or an OSHA representative, per paragraph (g) (11) of the regulatory text. “Safety data sheets shall also be made readily available, upon request, to designated representatives, the Assistant Secretary, and the Director, in accordance with the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.1020(e).”