OSHA’s hazard communication standard, also known as HazCom, gives employees the right to know and understand the hazards of the chemicals they could be exposed to at work. It’s a simple concept, but many employers fall short when it comes to compliance, as evidenced by hazcom’s status as the most common OSHA violation in general industry year after year.
The standard includes requirements for all stages of the chemical supply chain. Chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers must evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they sell and provide safety data sheets (SDSs) and labels for each hazardous chemical to downstream users. Employers that use hazardous chemicals in the workplace must create a written hazard communication program, provide employee training, and maintain SDSs for all chemicals in use at the facility.
Revised in 2012, the standard requires that SDSs be presented in a consistent, user-friendly, 16-section format. Sections 1 through 8 address general information about the chemical, the hazards, safe-handling practices, and emergency control measures. Sections 9 through 16 contain additional technical and scientific information like physical and chemical properties and exposure control information.
OSHA says employers can implement an effective hazard communication program by following these six steps:
- Learn the standard and identify responsible staff for particular activities such as training. Make sure someone has primary responsibility for coordinating implementation.
- Prepare and implement a written hazard communication program. Your program should detail how hazard communication will be addressed at your site. You’ll need to prepare a list or inventory of all hazardous chemicals. The program must specify your procedures for labeling, maintaining SDSs, and providing employee information.
- Ensure that containers are labeled. Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels on shipped containers with a product identifier, signal word, pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statement, and contact information for the responsible party. If you use an in-house labeling system for
- Maintain safety data sheets. Sheets are required for each hazardous chemical in the workplace, and they must be accessible to employees. If you do not receive an SDS from your supplier automatically, you are required to request one. If you choose to supply SDSs electronically, OSHA requires an adequate back-up system in the event of a power failure, equipment failure, or emergency.
- Inform and train employees. Employers must train employees on the hazardous chemicals in their work area before their initial assignment, and when new hazards are introduced. The training must be in a language and vocabulary employees can understand. Workers must be aware of protective measures available at the worksite.
- Evaluate and reassess. Revise your program to address changed conditions, such as new chemicals and new hazards. OSHA requires that your hazcom program remain current and relevant.