There’s no way around it, employees must be made aware of the dangers associated with any potentially hazardous chemicals in their place of work.

Hazard Communication, or HazCom for short, is a set of processes that employees must follow when working with chemicals. Because of the number of health and physical hazards that these workers face, special procedures need to be laid out.

Here’s everything you need to know about hazard communication, regulations, and requirements.

OSHA requires that any employer who oversees workers that deal with these chemicals must design and write a clearly-framed hazard communication program. This should include a training program for all employees who might potentially be exposed to said hazardous chemicals.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) as defined by OSHA specifies how to communicate important information about potential hazards to your employees and what measures can be taken to get ahead of any dangerous situations.

At its core, the HCS exists to ensure that employees are made aware of the chemicals that they may be exposed to in their workplace, and that they understand the risks associated with said materials. The HCS doesn’t just benefit workers, though. It acts as a sort of roadmap for employers – designing and implementing a program from scratch is a lot of work, and the guidelines laid out in the HCS can serve as a great starting point.

The HCS was last updated in 2012, when a globally-recognized system of classification was implemented, aka: Globally Harmonized System (“GHS”). This update provided consistency when it comes to classifying chemicals on safety labels regardless of which state or country the chemicals were originally produced and labeled in. This makes it easier for American businesses who might have storage or processing facilities abroad, and seriously reduces barriers to trade by simplifying and streamlining the way we communicate safety information.

OSHA HazCom standards also mention another important element of safety communication – safety data sheets (formerly known as material safety data sheets (MSDS). These sheets help employers to develop site-specific protection measures that meet their individual needs. The information on these sheets must appear in the following order:

  1. Identification
  2. Hazard(s) identification
  3. Composition/information on ingredients
  4. First-aid measures
  5. Fire-fighting measures
  6. Accidental release measures
  7. Handling and storage
  8. Exposure controls/personal protection
  9. Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Additional information when applicable

It is also important to note that employers must give all employees direct access to Safety Data Sheets, whether in hard or electronic form.

Aside from safety data sheets, labels are the other big part of safety communication. The HCS requires that chemical manufacturers and distributers clearly label any hazardous materials that leave the workplace. Specific requirements as to the information on these labels can be found here.

In the wake of globally standardized classification, the pictures on these labels have their own set of necessary criteria. You know the pictures we’re talking about – skull and bones, a ball of fire, a needle surrounded by a bright red outline. The text on these labels and warnings must be printed in English and be easily legible.

It is recommended that employers utilize “pictograms” as part of their labeling system to more easily communicate the hazards.  Pictograms are also used in Safety Data Sheets, per the GHS update from 2012. There are nine of these visual representations of hazards outline by the HCS, but OSHA technically only oversees eight – they don’t regulate chemical environmental impact.

Employees must be made aware of all of these important aspects of the HCS before they are allowed to start work – especially if they will be in direct contact with these potentially hazardous chemicals as a part of their day-to-day job function.

The other critical component of Hazard Communication is the proper selection and use of PPE to protect employees from chemical exposures.   This includes gloves, safety glasses, respirators, and more.

Remember to contact us today if you’d like more information about this topic specifically or OSHA compliance in general. As always, we’re happy to help.