OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HAZCOM)

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What You Need to Know about the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard

What is the Hazard Communication Standard?
OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HAZCOM) originated in 1983 as a direct result of 29CFR 1910.1200. A fundamental premise of HAZCOM is that employees who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace have a right to know about the hazards and how to protect themselves. For this reason, OSHA HAZCOM is sometimes referred to as the Employee Right-to-Know Legislation, or more often just as the Right-to-Know law.

In very broad terms, the current HAZCOM consists of the employee’s right to know about the hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Broken down into a more basic view—HAZCOM consists of the communication of the hazards in the workplace via a written program, a training element, and readily accessible material safety data sheets (MSDS) for employees. Much has been written about the current state of HAZCOM because OSHA is currently under review of updating HAZCOM with guidelines from the Globally Harmonized System (GHS).

Who is affected by the regulation?
Chemical manufacturers, distributors, and organizations that utilize hazardous chemicals in the workplace are subject to the hazard communication standard. While manufacturers and distributors have a greater responsibility for determining and communicating core chemical hazards, employers with workers exposed to hazardous materials are subject to the regulations as well. However, employers that do not produce or import chemicals need only focus on those parts of the rule that deal with establishing a workplace program and communicating information to their workers.

What do you need to do?
Some may think that HAZCOM only covers hazard communication MSDS requirements; however, there are five main elements to consider. A brief primer of the core elements follows, but be sure to talk to a professional trained in chemical compliance for a complete review.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Some of the requirements for MSDS include, but are not limited to:
  • The chemical and common name(s) of all ingredients
  • Physical and chemical characteristics of the hazardous chemical (such as vapor pressure, flash point);
  • The physical hazards of the hazardous chemical, including the potential for fire, explosion, and reactivity;
  • The health hazards of the hazardous chemical
  • The date of preparation , or last change
  • The name, address and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, employer or other responsible party preparing or distributing the material safety data sheet, who can provide additional information on the hazardous chemical and appropriate emergency procedures, if necessary.
  • Any generally applicable precautions for safe handling and use
  • Any generally applicable control measures
  • Emergency and first aid procedures

Chemical Labeling
The chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with the following information:
       1. Identity of the hazardous chemical(s);
       2. Appropriate hazard warnings; and
       3. Name and address of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.

Hazard Determination
Chemical manufacturers and importers shall evaluate chemicals produced in their workplaces or imported by them to determine if they are hazardous. Employers are not required to evaluate chemicals unless they choose not to rely on the evaluation performed by the chemical manufacturer or importer for the chemical to satisfy this requirement. Chemical manufacturers, importers or employers evaluating chemicals shall identify and consider the available scientific evidence concerning such hazards. For health hazards, evidence which is statistically significant and which is based on at least one positive study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles is considered to be sufficient to establish a hazardous effect if the results of the study meet the definitions of health hazards in this section.

Employee Training
Employee training shall include at least:
  • Methods and observations that may be used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area (such as monitoring conducted by the employer, continuous monitoring devices, visual appearance or odor of
  • The physical and health hazards of the chemicals in the work area;
  • The measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as appropriate work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment to be used; and,
  • The details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer, including an explanation of the labeling system and the material safety data sheet, and how employees can obtain and use the appropriate hazard information.

Written HAZCOM Program
Employers shall develop, implement, and maintain at each workplace, a written hazard communication program which at least describes how the criteria specified in paragraphs (f), (g), and (h) of this section for labels and other forms of warning, material safety data sheets, and employee information and training will be met.

Want more information on the following topics?

Chemical Inventory Management
MSDS Management
MSDS Authoring

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