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As you operate in and out of a laboratory, you will be exposed to a variety of chemicals, substances, and mixtures. These can be present not only during experiments, but also stored and transported throughout the laboratory. Each of these chemicals have unique properties and more importantly, unique potential hazards, that can make them a risk to not only yourself, but to your coworkers and even the public at large.
What is Hazard Communications?
Hazardous chemicals are found in every industry and business throughout the world. From common cleaning supplies utilized in housekeeping, to solvents, acids, fuel oils, gasses or other chemicals utilized in manufacturing, production or other industries, there are a wide variety of chemicals and associated hazards in each of these varying work environments. It was for this reason, in 1983, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration created the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), commonly called HazCom or Right to Know.
The Globally Harmonized System
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, commonly referred to as “GHS” is the standardized classification and labeling of chemicals. It is considered a logical and comprehensive approach. In the past, many countries had their own systems in place to classify and label chemicals, the purpose of the globally harmonized system was to create a global, universal standard that all chemicals and their manufacturers would follow. The core purpose of this was ease of use, implementation, and safety related procedures when handling, using or transporting chemicals. The system was developed by the United Nations in 2003 and has since been adopted by many countries, including the United States.
Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
Safety Data Sheets are the source of detailed information on hazardous chemicals. This includes information for many different audiences—employers, workers, safety, and health professionals, emergency responders, government agencies, and consumers. It is difficult for one document to serve the needs of all of these different audiences, since some require much more technical information than others. Therefore, the Safety Data Sheets sections have generally been organized so that the information of most use to exposed workers, emergency responders, and others who do not need extensive technical detail is in the beginning of the Safety Data Sheet, while the more technical information most commonly read by health and safety professionals is located in the later sections. Be sure to highlight and familiarize yourself with the portions of the safety data sheets which are pertinent to the operation of your business.
The Chemical Hygiene Plan
The chemical hygiene plan or (CHP) is an OSHA mandated program that establishes a formal written plan for protecting laboratory personnel against the adverse health and safety hazards associated with exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals and must be made available to all employees working with hazardous chemicals. The chemical hygiene plan describes the proper use, handling practices and procedures to be followed by employees, staff, contractors, and all other personnel working with or near potentially hazardous chemicals in a laboratory setting.
Labeling & Other Forms of Warning
Labels are a critical component of communicating information downstream to employees. The label is an immediate type of warning since it is present in the work area, right on the actual container of a hazardous chemical. It is a snapshot of the hazards and protective information related to the chemical, and a summary of the more detailed information available on the Safety Data Sheet. When you purchase a hazardous chemical from a supplier, you will receive a container that is labeled with the information required under the Hazard communication Standard. Employers can rely on the information provided by their suppliers.
Chemical Storage & Transfer
Studies from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that each year in the United States, thousands of workers are made sick from chemical exposures, and that the long-term effects of these exposures is believed to cause as many as 50,000 deaths annually. Many of these workplace exposures are the result of the improper storage and transfer of hazardous chemicals. Within laboratories, the proper storage and transfer of chemicals is critical to protecting not only those employees in your workplace but also, the assets of the business.