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When was the last time you thought about all of the chemicals you’re exposed to each day? Did you know that potentially hazardous chemicals can be found everywhere, including the workplace, at home and even while participating in recreational activities. It is estimated that there are more than 900,000 chemical products that currently exist and hundreds that are introduced annually. Each year, nearly 100 million workers are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards in the workplace.
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.
Hazard Communication Responsibilities
All workers have the right to know and understand the hazardous properties of the chemicals in the workplace to which they may be exposed. They also have the right to all pertinent information that will enable them to work with or around such chemicals in a safe manner. As such, each company has certain responsibilities to their employees.
Hazardous Chemical Inventory
The hazard communication standard requires that a comprehensive list of all chemicals known to be present in the workplace be maintained and updated when any new hazard enters the work area. The list may be kept using any product identifier from the Safety Data Sheet. The best way to prepare a comprehensive list may be to survey the workplace. Purchasing records may also help, and employers should establish procedures to ensure that purchasing orders result in receiving Safety Data Sheets before a material is used in the workplace. Prior to purchasing chemicals, review the hazards of the chemicals and evaluate if less hazardous chemicals can be used instead.
Safety Data Sheets
Understanding Safety Data Sheets (SDS) is crucial for ensuring safe handling and management of hazardous chemicals. These sheets provide vital information about the properties, hazards, and safety measures associated with chemicals. The course focuses on educating individuals about interpreting and utilizing SDS effectively to promote workplace safety and minimize risks related to chemical exposure.
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.
Utilizing a written hazard communication plan, ensures that compliance with the standard is done in a systematic way and that all elements are coordinated. The program must describe how the employer will address the requirements of each element of the standard. If OSHA inspects your workplace, the OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) will ask to see your written plan.
One of the most critical portions of the hazard communication standard approach is supplying employee information and training. For information and training to be effective, the workers in the training must comprehend the hazards in the workplace and ways to protect themselves. OSHA does not expect that workers will be able to recall and recite all data provided about each hazardous chemical in the workplace. What is most important is that: workers understand that they are exposed to hazardous chemicals, know how to read labels and safety data sheets, have a general understanding of what information is provided in these documents, and understand how to access these tools. Workers must also be aware of the protective measures available in their workplace, how to use or implement these measures, and who they should contact if an issue arises.