The Hazard Communication Standard & Chemical Safety in Workplaces.

Clear communication is key for any form of interaction and hazard prevention.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS/HazCom) has helped facilitate effective communication during the handling, transporting, labeling of hazardous materials since 1983.

HCS’s main objective is to offer procedures and rules to help identify hazardous chemicals, their effects on people (both safety and health), and the most appropriate ways to prevent further exposure, infection, or illness.

This standard is set by Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA, the agency that oversees safety and health in all working environments across the US.

What Exactly Is Hazard Communication?

Managers and employees dealing with chemicals encounter several physical and respiratory health dangers every day. Some of these dangers include; irritation, burning, and corrosion.

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard has helped to reduce such instances by laying down rules that producers and shippers must follow to evaluate and mitigate the dangers associated with the chemicals they handle.

After evaluation, these dangers must be shared with the users through labels and Safety Data Sheets.

The same thing applies for institutions handling dangerous chemicals. Executives must develop a written HazCom program that addresses all the dangers in various ways like;

  • Tagging containers
  • Offering workers training programs
  • Issuing all workers access to SDS and MSDS procedures
  • List of dangerous chemicals

The hazard communication standard educates all workers on the exact type of chemicals they handle and any would-be risks.

Labeling requirements.

In recent years, OSHA has upgraded its HazCom standards by aligning them with GHS standards to guarantee a safer and consistent safety solution to hazard chemicals shipped worldwide.

These improvements aim to address the following areas;

Labeling of Chemicals.

Labels are crucial in the identification and conveyance of precautionary information on dangerous chemicals.  It’s advisable to provide reliable SDS and ensure the personnel follows labeling requirements to the letter to create a safe environment.

Chemical manufacturers should work with reputable and reliable label producers to ensure the labels meet the HCS requirements. Not all label producers can create labels that match GHS requirements.

Chemical labels should be attached or written outside the packaging container. Updated GHS rules demand that all chemical transporters and producers should label all the dangerous chemicals using the necessary elements depending on their categories.

These elements include;

  • Chemical identifier.

All chemical producers should include an identifier for all the chemicals they produce. These identifiers can be a number, name, or a code. Each chemical has a distinctive identifier, and the same applies to data sheets too.

  • Pictograms.

Pictograms are a form of a symbol that facilitates the delivery of essential visual information concerning various specific types of chemicals. They usually appear as an icon/sign which has borders, color, or pattern. So far, GHS has nine kinds of pictograms that are widely used with most distributors and producers.

Among the nine pictograms, OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard enforces only eight of them. They include; a flame, gas container, cranium and crossbones, an exploding bomb, corrosion, exclamation mark, and flame above a circle, and health danger. Pictograms can either convey health-related, chemical, or environmental risks.

  • Warning words.

Warning words are normally used to indicate the level of danger a particular chemical carries. For example, the term “danger” usually suggests that the level of hazard a chemical has is very severe, while “warning” indicates the threat is less hazardous.

  • Danger statements.

Danger statements are useful when conveying information concerning the hazardous nature of a specific category of chemicals. There’s an institutional body responsible for the maintenance of chemical danger statements and alphanumerical codes. An example of such information is “for external use only.”

  • Precautionary statements.

Such statements convey information regarding the cautionary procedures you should do to reduce the level of exposure risks associated with a particular chemical. Examples of such statements are “avoid eye contact,” “wear a mask,” or “use in well-ventilated areas only.”

  • Contact info.

All chemical producers should include the contact info in their chemicals: address, brand name, and reach-out number.

  • Hazard classification.

Manufacturers and distributors need to identify the dangers associated with the chemicals they handle based on the updated GHS-aligned danger classification system.

  • Datasheets.

Chemical handlers should adhere to the new SDS format, which now comprises sixteen sections for consistent chemical threat communication. SDS sections should contain the following information;

  • Transportation info
  • Ecological data
  • Toxicological data
  • Regulatory data
  • Storage and handling instructions
  • Fire-fighting procedures
  • First-aid procedures
  • Exposure or personal protection details
  • MSDSs
  • Hazard identification
  • Chemical composition
  • Chemical’s stability/reactivity
  • Properties of the chemical
  • Disposal requirements

The above information is fundamental to employees, and it’s unacceptable to deny them access to it.

Besides these 16 sections, executives should also provide information about the sources/ literature used to identify those hazards.

All chemical handlers should provide accurate and reliable SDS to avoid any hazards to the end-users. All users are advised to report any form of inaccuracy or misinformation from data sheets to their chemical suppliers.

The Importance of Training on the Hazard Communication Standard.

Institutional managers and employees encounter dangerous substances at work. Everyone must be cautious to avoid contamination, injuries, or further exposure.

OSHA’s HazCom standards provide a comprehensive and ethical way to handle such incidents by;

  1. Ensuring that all workers work in a risk-free and healthy environment when dealing with harmful chemicals
  2. Ensuring all employees dealing or working in chemical firms get the necessary training to identify harmful chemicals and how to reduce the exposure level.
  3. Providing a way of identifying chemical dangers in workplaces and how to manage them.

Company owners are responsible for all employees’ actions within the facility. Some of their roles include; organizing and launching a chemical threats program, supervising the use and storage of chemicals, or creating awareness of any reforms.

Facility administrators should be transparent with workers concerning the risk profile. HCS training demands that employee training happens before task assignment, and the business owners must ensure this happens.

Even when the owner decides to reassign the duty to a manager, he/she will be liable in case of any form of inconveniences. This activity’s main objective is to enlighten workers before exposure; delaying to do so only increases the probability of avoidable risks.

Executives must understand that issuing workers with SDS isn’t enough; the key is an elaborate explanation of possible hazards and how to use the provided information to alleviate or control risks.

This training can be done through forums, audiovisuals, or classroom sessions.

During such pieces of training, workers should be given the opportunity to ask any queries to facilitate better understanding.

It is unnecessary to carry out training on individual chemicals; it’s much easier to conduct it based on chemicals categories, such as cancerous chemicals, acutely toxic, corrosive, or sensitizers. Hazard communication standard training should be simple.

For a multilingual team, it’s crucial to care for the various diversities. The hazard warnings should also accommodate everyone, be updated every six months, and prominently displayed.

Basically, HCS training aims at enlightening workers on processes where they are most likely going to encounter hazards, how to identify and deal those hazards, possible hazardous materials, available warning systems, and MSDSs.

Managers and executives must jot down the location, time, and information provided during all hazard communication trainings. These sessions last 2-5 hours in most institutions. Some institutions gauge their workers’ understanding through written tests or questionnaires.

Personnel providing HCS training must be skilled and knowledgeable in the sector. If the facility decides to use an in-house administrator, it’s crucial he/she takes a thorough hazard communication training course.

The introduction of new hazardous materials requires a corresponding worker training session before the rollout. States like New York, demand that all government employees undergo yearly refresher training.

The hazard communication standard strongly advocates for the use and creation of written guidelines which should be accessible to all workers, their representatives, and regulatory agencies. These guides must be readable and not necessarily lengthy.

Employers can get effective HCS formats from safety consultants, manuals, or computer-based programs.

How Chemical Departments Get in Line with the Hazcom Standard.

To ensure all employers, and manufacturers comply with the hazard communication standard, OSHA recommends the following tips;

  • Be familiar with the standard.
  • Obtain pertinent SDS
  • Label all chemicals storage containers
  • Come up with a chemical list for your institution.
  • Create a written HCS program
  • Train employees on the standard

Lastly, you want to cultivate a culture of donning personal protective equipment when handling highly hazardous chemicals.

Final Words

Hazardous chemicals need proper handling, labeling, and shipping. The hazard communication standard offers a safe and effective way to perform all these tasks when dealing with harmful chemicals.

It’s important to comply with HCS requirements when handling dangerous chemicals. Always conduct regular worker training, create valid SDSs, and ensure all the responsible parties have access.