Developing a Hazardous Chemical Communication
by Dr. Isabel Perry,
“The Safety Doctor”
It is estimated that there are almost 700,000 chemical
products in existence today, and hundreds more are developed every year. Almost
32 million Americans work with and are potentially exposed to chemical
hazards. Because of the potentially
serious consequences, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
has issued The Hazardous Waste Communication Standard. Its purpose is to ensure that employers and
employees know about the hazards and how to protect themselves. OSHA believes that this knowledge will help
reduce the number of accidents and injuries caused by hazardous chemicals.
Exposure to hazardous chemicals may cause or contribute to
many serious health ailments, including, but not limited to heart ailments,
cancer, damage to the central nervous system, kidney and lung damage,
sterility, burns and rashes. Some
chemicals also have the potential to cause fires and explosions.
All chemicals, whether imported or produced in the
fall under uniform requirements and are evaluated. The information is then provided to employers
and the employees exposed to the chemicals.
Many, but not all, states have OSHA-approved state safety and
health plans. These plans must be at
least as stringent as the federal regulations, and must be enforced by state
agencies must enforce their plans.
The Hazardous Communication Standard covers all
chemicals. This is not true of the OSHA
health rules. These rules state that the
companies that produce chemicals have the primary responsibility for providing
information. Employers must then obtain
the information and provide it to their employees.
The main steps are:
Assign an individual the responsibility for
carrying out the program. That
individual must be given a copy of the Hazardous Communication Standard. This
can be obtained by contacting the OSHA Publications office in
, one of the ten regional OSHA offices
or an area office in your state. Information is also available on the OSHA website (www.osha.gov), and can be found at the local
After studying the standard, write a Hazardous
Communication Program. The program must
of an individual responsible for carrying out the various aspects of the
list of hazardous chemicals in each work area and the location of MSDSs
for obtaining and maintaining MSDSs
for container labeling and maintenance of the labeling system
of the employee training program
for notifying contractors about hazardous chemicals
Next, a list must be made of all hazardous
chemicals or raw materials present or in use at a facility. This needs to be a comprehensive list of
every chemical and raw material, (even if used only occasionally), including
any on order at the time of the inventory. This list needs to be updated whenever new or different chemicals are
brought to the worksite.
Once a list is compiled, there are some
chemicals that aren’t included in the Standard:
or veterinary products
beverages (distilled spirits) not intended for industrial use
Manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of
hazardous chemicals are required to provide a MSDS for each hazardous
chemical. If there are chemicals on site
for which there are no MSDSs, one must be requested. The manufacturer decides whether a material
is hazardous or not and put that information on the MSDS.
One person should be assigned to update the
chemical inventory periodically and obtain MSDSs for item on the list.
MSDSs should be readily available to all
employees. They must be able to be
provided the same day, and on the same shift they are requested.
Once the chemicals have been identified, their
containers must be labeled in English. The label must contain:
name of the hazardous material
warning such as (corrosive, flammable, etc)
name and address of the manufacturer
Employees must not remove the labels or damage
If the company uses portable containers to move
chemicals, they may not need to be labeled. Containers that are filled and used during a shift don’t need to be
Although pipes and piping systems don’t need to
be labeled, employees must be informed of the hazardous chemicals contained in
Containers that have a fixed process, like
reactor vessels or degreasers, may have a sign with written instructions in the
Employers must train and inform employees and
contractors about the hazardous chemicals and the protective measures to be
taken. Someone with knowledge of the
Hazardous Communication Standard and the hazards of all chemicals at that
facility should give the training.
Employees need training when they are new, when
new chemicals are brought into the area, when they move to a different area,
and also periodically to keep safety uppermost in their minds.
Make sure that management and employees know about chemical
hazards on the job and how to protect themselves. This knowledge will help reduce the number of
accidents and injuries caused by hazardous chemicals and contribute to a safer
working environment for everyone!
Dr. Isabel Perry is
an internationally-known safety expert, motivational speaker, author, and
safety educator. Based in
, she can be reached at 407-291-1209 or via e-mail at