A Primer on Hazard Communication (HAZCOM)
Basic HAZCOM training should be required for anyone who works in a facility that uses or houses chemicals.
If you work with hazardous chemicals, you know they pose a number of risks. But chances are, you can't name all of those risks off the top of your head. Nor would you be able to know every type of precaution to take when handling them.
I don't blame you. Every bottle of cleaner stored away in a cupboard, the paint thinner sitting on the shelf, the contents of the fuel tank on the jobsite - it's a lot of information to memorize.
Thankfully, you don't have to commit all of it to memory. Not if you have helpful reminders that quickly communicate all the information you need about the chemical products around you.
That's the purpose behind the Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom). It ensures that all the information needed to safely store and handle chemical products is readily available and easily understood.
HazCom is a significant tool for improving the safety of every workplace. In this article, we'll cover all the things you need to know about this important standard.
HazCom and the Right to Know
HazCom is often referred to as the "Employee Right to Know" standard, and with good reason. It's the regulation that established the right of employees to be aware of the hazardous nature of the chemicals to which they may be exposed and, crucially, imposes requirements on employers to communicate those hazards to employees in various ways.
There was, however, one shortfall with the original standard. While it made employers provide hazard information to employees, it did not specifically require employers to teach workers about the chemical terms and concepts needed to interpret and understand that information.
Thankfully, the standard has since been updated. Currently, it requires employers to:
- Develop and implement a written HazCom program
- Create and maintain an inventory of chemicals used and stored in the workplace,
- Maintain and provide access to safety data sheets (SDS) for chemicals used and stored in the workplace
- Ensure proper labeling of chemical containers, including the name of the chemical, its hazards, signal words to guide its safe use, and pictograms to provide safety information at a glance
- Train employees on the standard (including the contents of labels and SDS) and chemical hazards they may encounter in their daily job duties
The Hazard Communication Standard is aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This provides a universal and coherent approach for classifying and labeling chemicals, as well as ensuring that the information each SDS is standardized and consistent. The GHS is an international standard, meaning that OSHA's adoption of it brings the US in line with other nations.
(Learn more about Health and Safety Symbols and Their Meanings)
Why Training Is an Integral Part of HazCom
Training is an important element to any successful HazCom program. After all, the standard is all about the employee's right to know - not the employee's right to be told!
In other words, the employer's responsibilities don't end with them labeling chemical containers and giving employees access to safety data sheets. They also need to ensure that they understand all of this information and are made aware of the most salient parts of it.
Unless employees can easily interpret the safety information provided to them, they're essentially operating without it. And that's a risk no one should have to take. That's why it's essential for employers to train workers how to analyze and use the information found on chemical labels and in the pages of an SDS.
(Learn more in Everything You Need to Know About Safety Data Sheets)
Who Needs HazCom Training?
So, training matters. But who, exactly, needs to be trained in HazCom?
The short and simple answer is: everyone.
That may sound like a daunting task to employers, especially if some of their employees spend their day working at an office desk. That may well be the case, but the reality is that nearly every employee will come across hazardous chemicals in the workplace sooner or later. When they do, it's important for them to understand the risks involved and know what steps they can take to keep themselves safe.
While everyone should receive HazCom training, employees who deal with chemicals as part of their routine job tasks should receive further in-depth training.
Moreover, OSHA states that:
Employers shall provide employees with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new chemical hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area.
Refresher training sessions should also be held when new hazardous materials are introduced into the workplace. Employees should learn about the potential hazards associated with a product before they use that product. If, for example, you are introducing a cleaner that is also a corrosive substance into the workplace for the first time, training on corrosive hazards is advisable. If, on the other hand, you introduce a new cleaning agent that has similar properties and hazards to other cleaning agents already kept on site, then no new training will be required.
(Learn about Chemical-Resistant Glove Materials)
What Your HazCom Training Program Should Cover
A comprehensive Hazard Communication training program should first outline the frequency of the training. HazCom training should be conducted:
- As part of the onboarding process for new hires
- As refresher training any time an employee demonstrates a lack of the knowledge necessary to work safely with hazardous chemicals
- At least annually as a refresher
- Any time a new chemical hazard is introduced into the work area
The topics covered in your HazCom training program should include:
- Where the written HazCom program is located, its availability, the content provided in the program, and its requirements
- Where hazardous materials are located in your workplace
- Where to access an SDS, how to read them, and where to find the most pertinent information (such as PPE requirements and first aid procedures)
- How to detect the presence or accidental release of a toxic chemical (e.g. visual cues, odor, readings on a gas monitor)
- What to do in the event of an accidental chemical release or a spill
- Hazards associated with the chemicals found on the worksite (including both its physical hazards and adverse health effects, where relevant)
- Control methods for chemical hazards, including engineering controls, safe work practice guidelines, emergency procedures, and PPE
- Thorough explanations of the labeling system used for chemical products, including the visual elements such as pictograms
For most workplaces, a HazCom training session should last between one and four hours. The session can conclude with a written test to ensure that the information sticks.
Ideally, the training should be conducted by instructors with at least two years of experience in adult training methodologies and who are knowledgeable about the hazardous materials covered in the session.
To ensure that your training is effective and comprehensive, consider enrolling in the Hazard Communication Specialist course offered by the National Association of Safety Professionals. This IACET-accredited 13-hour/1.3 CEU course is designed to cover all the bases. Save 10% off the course tuition with the code SAFEHCS10.