Making Sense of Hazard Communication
Knowing how to read and understand hazard communication labels is an important part of chemical safety.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure your workers are aware of the hazards they come into contact with and are equipped the knowledge and resources to manage them. Part of that is adhering to OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which helps ensure that all chemical hazards are properly classified and communicated to management and workers alike.
Of course, hazard communication protocols are only helpful if they are understood and followed, so let’s take a look at some of the key components of this standard.
What Is Hazard Communication?
Hazard communication is the process of ensuring that the hazards related to all chemicals produced by or imported into the workplace are properly evaluated and communicated to employees who may come into contact with them.
Why is this important? Under OSHA regulations, both employers and employees have the right to know which hazards they may be exposed to and what precautions they can take to protect themselves. Hazard communication facilitate this by standardizing the labeling of chemical products.
Understanding OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard
The HCS provides a single set of criteria for classifying chemicals based on their health and physical hazards. The hazards are communicated to users though container labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that follow a standardized format.
The SDS format has 16 user-friendly sections consistent across all chemical classes. Sections 1-8 address:
- General information about the chemical
- Safe handling practices
- Emergency control measures
Sections 9-16 cover additional technical and scientific information, including physical properties, chemical properties, and exposure control information.
The standard is in place to create a harmonized system for defining and communicating chemical hazards across the workplace. But it also helps streamline workplace safety and training programs. No matter which company you work for, hazard communication follows the same principles and labeling.
OSHA has made their position clear: employers using hazardous chemicals must ensure that the work facilities have the most recently updated safety data sheets available to workers. They also require employers to prepare and implement a written hazard communication plan, which helps ensure a coordinated approach to complying with this standard.
In practice, the HCS helps employees complete their work tasks safely and more efficiently. The chemical labels, for example, are used to:
- Ensure proper storage of hazardous chemicals
- Determine appropriate first aid based on the hazards of a particular chemical
- Identify various hazards based on the pictograms on the label
Implementing a Hazard Communication Program
To be fully compliant with OSHA’s regulations, employers must create and implement a written hazard communication program. They recommend following the following steps.
1. Learn the Standard and Identify Key Staff
You should have a full understanding of what OSHA’s HCS requires and the individuals in your business who are responsible for activities related to it.
2. Prepare a Written Hazcom Program
The written program must detail how hazard communication will be addressed at each worksite. It should include:
- An inventory of all hazardous chemicals
- Labeling procedures
- Procedures for maintaining Safety Data Sheets
- Procedures for providing employees with relevant information
3. Ensure All Chemical Containers Are Labeled
While chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers are required to label all shipped containers, it's still important to cross-check your inventory to ensure every chemical is correctly labeled. If labeling is done in-house, double check that you are following the correct format.
Labels must include:
- Product identifier
- Signal word
- Hazard statements
- Precautionary statement
- Contact information for manufacturer/distributor/importer
4. Maintain Safety Data Sheets
Every hazardous chemical in the workplace must have an accompanying SDS that is accessible to employees. Suppliers should send these Safety Data Sheets automatically, but if you don’t receive one then you must request it immediately.
If you use an electronic SDS system, note that OSHA requires you to keep hard copies in case of a power or equipment failure or an emergency.
5. Inform and Train Employees
All employees must be trained on the hazardous chemicals in their work area before beginning their tasks (we'll return to this subject below).
6. Evaluate and Re-Assess the Program
Every hazardous communication program should be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that it remains current and relevant. When conducting an assessment, take particular note of changes, such as new chemicals and hazards.
The Importance of Employee Training
We cannot overstate the importance of providing adequate training when it comes to hazard communication. You must ensure your employees receive comprehensive training and possess the knowledge and understanding necessary to safely carry out their jobs, and that includes being able to understand and act upon the information provided on Safety Data Sheets.
To this end, OSHA requires that employee hazcom training include a number of specific topics:
- How to detect the presence or release of hazardous chemicals in the work area
- Measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards
- Details of the employer’s hazard communication program, including:
- Explanation of the labels on shipped containers
- The workplace labeling system
- Safety data sheets
- How to obtain and use the appropriate hazard information
Training on specific shipped container hazard labels should include a complete overview of the six standard elements on the label:
- Product Identifier: how the hazardous chemical is identified
- Signal Word: indicates the severity of the hazard
- Pictograms: indicate the health, physical, and environmental hazards
- Hazard Statement(s): describes the nature and degree of the hazard(s)
- Precautionary Statement(s): explain measures that should be taken to prevent ill effects from exposure to chemical or improper storage and handling
- Name, Address, and Phone Number of the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer
Hazcom training should keep employees engaged to encourage maximum information retention, so it’s a good idea to use a variety of different teaching methods. Consider audio-visual materials, classroom instruction, and interactive videos. Make sure there is ample time for employees to ask for clarifications, and include a question and answer period.
Employees must receive the training when they are initially assigned to work with a hazardous chemical. Additional training must be completed whenever a new health and safety hazard is introduced to the work area. Refresher training is also a good idea, and employers may wish to consider providing this on an annual basis.
Year after year, the Hazard Communication Standard is included in OSHA’s top 10 safety violations across all industries. Not only is this costly in a financial sense, but it also has an impact on employee safety and morale.
Implementing a hazard communication program is the best way to prevent injuries and illnesses resulting from chemical hazards. And it’s not difficult to do. By following the steps outlined in this article, you'll be empowering your workers to take chemical safety into their own hands.
More from AD Safety Network
- When should you consider using custom molded earplugs?
- At what height do falls become deadly?
- Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?
- What kind of training do loading dock workers need?
- How often should I inspect a loading dock?
- How is wind chill calculated?
- What is the difference between occupational safety and process safety?
- Why should rubber insulating gloves be tested?
- What happens if I tie off at the foot level with a personal SRL?
- Why is testing with a NAIL4PET accredited lab important?
- What kind of face protection do I need when using a chainsaw?
- What is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica?
- What is silica and why is it hazardous?
- What is 'Table 1' and why is it so important?
- Video Q&A - What is a safety policy?
- What kind of fire extinguisher is best for your work site?
- How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
- Can I wear fall protection equipment over my rainwear or winter gear?
- When do I need a cage ladder?
- What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?
- How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
- What dangers do workers face when working outside in the winter?
- How do I win over my most reluctant employees?
- What kinds of jobs should use disposable safety gloves?
- Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
- When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
- How can I get employees more involved in the risk assessment plan?
- What are some of the indirect costs of workplace accidents?
- How often do fire extinguishers need to be inspected?
- What is the best way to store rubber safety gloves?
- How much voltage protection is needed for safety gloves used in electrical work?
- What is the difference between a safety valve and a release valve?
- When do workers have the right to refuse to work?
- What is the most overlooked item when designing Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures?
- What are some of the misconceptions about heat stress and what should we do to address them?
- What tools should I tether when working at heights?
- What types of gas should I watch out for when working in a confined space?
- How do you create a culture of safety in your workplace?
- What is the difference between industrial safety and industrial hygiene?
- Is it important to get PPE assessments by trained professionals?
- What is a fault tree analysis?
- What kind of respirator cartridge should I use?
- What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
- What type of safety record-keeping and recording should we be doing?
- What makes a hi-vis safety vest ANSI compliant?
- Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?
- What is the life expectancy of fall protection equipment?
- What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
- How much clearance do I need to safely use a Leading Edge SRL?
- What is the difference between an acute hazard and a chronic hazard?
- What’s the difference between a bump test, a calibration check, and a full calibration?
- Is there any legislation regulating lone worker safety I should know about before hiring?
- What kind of fire extinguisher and accessories should be kept on hand on a factory floor?
- What can companies do to reduce their lost time injury frequency rates?
- Video Q&A - What's your safety network like?
- Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?
- Video Q&A - How do you treat a near miss?
- Does body weight affect falls differently?
- What ages are most affected by falls?
- Why do workers take risks?
- What Is the Difference Between OHSAS 18001 and 18002?
- What is the difference between lost time injury and medical treatment case?
- What is the difference between occupational health and safety and workplace health and safety?
- What is the difference between occupational health and occupational safety?
- What is the difference between a lost time injury and a disabling injury?