November 29, 2000
Understanding the OSHA Hazard Communication
Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard
(HCS) is based on a simple concept - that employees have both
a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the
chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need
to know what protective measures are available to prevent
adverse effects from occurring. The HCS is designed to provide
employees with the information they need.
Knowledge acquired under the HCS
will help employers provide safer workplaces for their employees.
When employers have information about the chemicals being
used, they can take steps to reduce exposures, substitute
less hazardous materials, and establish proper work practices.
These efforts will help prevent the occurrence of work-related
illnesses and injuries caused by chemicals.
This standard is long and complex
and considered to be one of the most confusing OSHA standards.
Employers often find it difficult to understand and implement
all of the requirements. As a result, the HCS continues to
be one of the most frequently cited OSHA standards.
If you are operating in an OSHA-approved
State Plan State, you must comply with the State's requirements,
which may be different than those of the Federal rule. Many
of the State Plan States had hazard communication or "right-to-know"
laws prior to promulgation of the Federal rule. Employers
in State Plan States should contact their State OSHA offices
for more information regarding applicable requirements.
The HCS requires information to
be prepared and transmitted regarding all hazardous chemicals.
The HCS covers both physical hazards (such as flammability),
and health hazards (such as irritation, lung damage, and cancer).
Most chemicals used in the workplace have some hazard potential,
and thus will be covered by the rule.
The standard's design is simple.
Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards
of the chemicals they produce or import. Using that information,
they must then prepare labels for containers, and more detailed
technical bulletins called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
Chemical manufacturers, importers,
and distributors of hazardous chemicals are all required to
provide the appropriate labels and material safety data sheets
to the employers to which they ship the chemicals. The information
is to be provided automatically. Every container of hazardous
chemicals you receive must be labeled, tagged, or marked with
the required information. Your suppliers must also send you
a properly completed material safety data sheet (MSDS) at
the time of the first shipment of the chemical, and with the
next shipment after the MSDS is updated with new and significant
information about the hazards.
You can rely on the information
received from your suppliers. You have no independent duty
to analyze the chemical or evaluate the hazards of it.
Written Hazard Communication
All workplaces where employees
are exposed to hazardous chemicals must have a written plan
which describes how the standard will be implemented in that
facility. Preparation of a plan is not just a paper exercise
- all of the elements must be implemented in the workplace
in order to be in compliance with the rule.
The only work operations which
do not have to comply with the written plan requirements are
laboratories and work operations where employees only handle
chemicals in sealed containers. See paragraph (b) of the
regulation, scope and application, for the specific requirements
for these two types of workplaces
The plan does not have to be lengthy
or complicated. It is intended to be a blueprint for implementation
of your program - an assurance that all aspects of the requirements
have been addressed.
If OSHA inspects your workplace
for compliance with the HCS, the OSHA compliance officer will
ask to see your written plan at the outset of the inspection.
In general, the following items will be considered in evaluating
your program: the written program must describe how the requirements
for labels and other forms of warning, material safety data
sheets, and employee information and training, are going to
be met in your facility.
The following is the type of information
that compliance officers will be looking for to decide whether
these elements of the hazard communication program have been
Labels and Other Forms of Warning
In-plant containers of hazardous
chemicals must be labeled, tagged, or marked with the identity
of the material and appropriate hazard warnings. Chemical
manufacturers, importers, and distributors are required to
ensure that every container of hazardous chemicals they ship
is appropriately labeled with such information and with the
name and address of the producer or other responsible party.
Employers purchasing chemicals
can rely on the labels provided by their suppliers. If the
material is subsequently transferred by the employer from
a labeled container to another container, the employer will
have to label that container unless it is subject to the portable
container exemption. See paragraph (f) of this regulation
for specific labeling requirements.
The primary information to be obtained
from an OSHA-required label is an identity for the material,
and appropriate hazard warnings. Labels must be legible,
and prominently displayed. There are no specific requirements
for size or color, or any specified text.
Employers that are purchasing and
using hazardous chemicals - rather than producing or distributing
them - will primarily be concerned with ensuring that every
purchased container is labeled. If materials are transferred
into other containers, the employer must ensure that these
are labeled as well, unless they fall under the portable container
exemption (paragraph (f)(7) of this regulation).
In terms of labeling systems, you
can simply choose to use the labels provided by your suppliers
on the containers. These will generally be verbal text labels,
and do not usually include numerical rating systems or symbols
that require special training. The most important thing to
remember is that this is a continuing duty - all in-plant
containers of hazardous chemicals must always be labeled.
Therefore, it is important to designate someone to be responsible
for ensuring that the labels are maintained as required on
the containers in your facility, and that newly purchased
materials are checked for labels prior to use.
Material Safety Data Sheets
Chemical manufacturers and importers
are required to obtain or develop a material safety data sheet
for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. Distributors
are responsible for ensuring that their customers are provided
a copy of these MSDSs. Employers must have an MSDS for each
hazardous chemical which they use. Employers may rely on
the information received from their suppliers.
The specific requirements for material
safety data sheets are in paragraph (g) of this regulation.
There is no specified format for the MSDS under the rule,
although there are specific information requirements. OSHA
has developed a non-mandatory format, OSHA Form 174, which
may be used by chemical manufacturers and importers to comply
with the rule. The MSDS must be in English.
You are entitled to receive from
your supplier a data sheet which includes all of the information
required under the rule. If you do not receive one automatically,
you should request one. If you receive one that is obviously
inadequate, with, for example, blank spaces that are not completed,
you should request an appropriately completed one. If your
request for a data sheet or for a corrected data sheet does
not produce the information needed, you should contact your
local OSHA Area Office for assistance in obtaining the MSDS.
The role of MSDSs under the rule
is to provide detailed information on each hazardous chemical,
including its potential hazardous effects, its physical and
chemical characteristics, and recommendations for appropriate
protective measures. This information should be useful to
you as the employer responsible for designing protective programs,
as well as to the workers. If you are not familiar with material
safety data sheets and with chemical terminology, you may
need to learn to use them yourself. A glossary of MSDS terms
may be helpful in this regard. Generally speaking, most employers
using hazardous chemicals will primarily be concerned with
MSDS information regarding hazardous effects and recommended
protective measures. Focus on the sections of the MSDS that
are applicable to your situation.
MSDSs must be readily accessible
to employees when they are in their work areas during their
workshifts. This may be accomplished in many different ways.
You must decide what is appropriate for your particular workplace.
Some employers keep the MSDSs in a binder in a central location
(e.g., in the pick-up truck on a construction site, in the
break room or supervisor's office). Others, particularly
in workplaces with large numbers of chemicals, computerize
the information and provide access through terminals. As
long as employees can get the information when they need it,
any approach may be used.
For employers using hazardous chemicals,
the most important aspect of the written program in terms
of MSDSs is to ensure that someone is responsible for obtaining
and maintaining the MSDSs for every hazardous chemical in
the workplace. The list of hazardous chemicals required to
be maintained as part of the written program will serve as
an inventory. As new chemicals are purchased, the list should
be updated. Many companies have found it convenient to include
on their purchase orders the name and address of the person
designated in their company to receive MSDSs.
In addition to these specific items,
compliance officers will also be asking the following questions
in assessing the adequacy of the program:
- Does a list of the hazardous chemicals exist in each work
area or at a central location?
- Are methods the employer will use to inform employees
of the hazards of non-routine tasks outlined?
- Are employees informed of the hazards associated with
chemicals contained in unlabeled pipes in their work areas?
- On multi-employer worksites, has the employer provided
other employers with information about labeling systems
and precautionary measures where the other employers have
employees exposed to the initial employer's chemicals?
- Is the written program made available to employees and
their designated representatives?
- If your program adequately addresses the means of communicating
information to employees in your workplace, and provides
answers to the basic questions outlined above, it will be
found to be in compliance with the rule.
The following checklist will help
to ensure you are in compliance with the Hazard Communication
- Obtained a copy of the rule. ______________
- Read and understood the requirements. ______________
- Assigned responsibility for tasks. ______________
- Prepared an inventory of chemicals. ______________
- Ensured containers are labeled. ______________
- Obtained MSDS for each chemical. ______________
- Prepared written program. ______________
- Made MSDSs available to workers. ______________
- Conducted training of workers. ______________
- Established procedures to maintain current program. ______________
- Established procedures to evaluate effectiveness. ______________
OSHA has provided a simple summary
of the HCS in a pamphlet entitled "Chemical Hazard Communication,"
OSHA Publication Number 3084. A copy may be obtained from
your local OSHA Area Office, or by contacting the OSHA Publications
Office at (202) 523-9667.
For additional information see
the OSHA home page at http://www.osha.gov/.
Coming next month we will continue
the Hazard Communication theme by simplifying the Material
Safety Data Sheet. Join us as we unravel the mystery behind
the information on a MSDS!
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See you next month,