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Standard brought protective measures against hazards since 1983, but to this day it remains one of the most frequently violated OSHA standards.

By Nicholas Sheble
President Ronald Reagan was a zealous deregulator and his administration tried to weaken OSHA enforcement and rulemaking. It was during his term however, that he signed into being an enduring regulation to protect workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its Hazard Communication Standard (HAZCOM) in 1983.
It requires proprietors of the workplace make known to employees the hazards of all chemicals used in that workplace so there can be — and everyone can take responsibility — protective measures against those hazards.

With that in mind, to this day, HAZCOM remains one of the most frequently violated OSHA standards.

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HAZCOM requires companies to advise employees of hazards using three separate means.
1. Container warning labels
2. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)
3. Employee training

HAZCOM’s technical appellation is 29 CFR 1910.1200, Hazard Communication.

“The accessibility and use of MSDSs should already be a part of a company’s standard business practices,” said James Hylko, a POWER magazine editor, when talking about HAZCOM programs.

Usually, they are included as part of the company’s right-to-know program. Typical HAZCOM training information that should go to all employees includes the following:
• Reason for a HAZCOM plan
• The HCS (Hazardous Communication Standard) and the standard operating procedure that addresses HAZCOM
• MSDS books and their importance
• Common types of materials expected to be onsite
• Container labeling and disposition
• Building postings
• Employee protection and responsibilities

MSDSs are in worldwide usage and transmit detailed information about a chemical—for example, how ones should use it, its effects, and how to protect against those effects.[/private]

An example MSDS provides guidance for handling a hazardous substance.

An example MSDS provides guidance for handling a hazardous substance.

[private]Employers routinely review MSDSs before they purchase a chemical and compare it to acceptable alternatives in order to select the least hazardous material possible. This practice is perhaps the most important use of the MSDS, as it prevents unnecessary exposure to a hazardous chemical.

As well, MSDSs help identify what protective measures to use when handling the material, such as the type of respiratory protection to prevent an inhalation exposure or the type of glove material required that can prevent skin exposure.

For MSDSs, warning labels, and employee training to be effective, the hazard information they convey must be complete and accurate. It is critically important for every company to obtain comprehensive and correct information about the hazards associated with particular chemicals.

The process of evaluating available scientific evidence in order to determine if a chemical is hazardous, as required by the HCS, is a “hazard determination.” The hazard determination provides the basis for the information provided in its MSDS.

Defining a Manufacturer
Chemical manufacturers and importers must perform hazard determinations on the chemicals they produce or import. Under the HCS, an employer that manufactures, processes, formulates, or repackages a hazardous chemical is a “chemical manufacturer.”

Distributors and employers may also choose to conduct hazard determinations if there is concern about the adequacy of hazard information for the chemicals they use in their business or distribute to others.

Two resources are necessary to conduct a hazard determination. First, complete, accurate, up-to-date literature and data concerning the chemical is required.

Second, the analyst must be able to understand and interpret the information retrieved in order to identify and document the hazards. Specifically, any chemical that presents either a physical or a health hazard is a hazardous chemical.

The HCS uses these definitions for physical and health hazards:
• “Physical hazard” means a chemical for which there is scientifically valid evidence that it is a combustible liquid, a compressed gas, explosive, flammable, an organic peroxide, an oxidizer, pyrophoric, unstable (reactive), or water-reactive.
• “Health hazard” means a chemical that may cause acute or chronic health effects in exposed employees, such as chemicals that are carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, agents that act on the hematopoietic system, and agents that damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes.

General but Inclusive
“The HCS definition of a hazardous chemical,” Hylko said, “is very broad but also very inclusive. The standard does not require chemical testing, only the collection and analysis of currently available data. Conservatively, we treat untested chemicals as hazardous, as are chemicals with suspected hazardous properties.”

An employer’s comprehensive HAZCOM program is the means of applying the HCS to company-specific conditions. The company usually circulates the information to employees as policy.

Employees should receive HAZCOM training at the time they begin working with hazardous chemicals, on a regular basis, or following significant changes in the workplace.

However, the HCS training provisions are not satisfied solely by having employees read product labels and/or the MSDSs. An employer’s HAZCOM training program is for explaining to employees not only the hazards of the chemicals in their work area but also how to use the information.

A HAZCOM Compliance Checklist

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard provides a checklist to ensure that a company complies with the standard:
• 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

Even though the requirement for chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and the requirement to prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers have been around for some time, HAZCOM ranked in the top 10 on OSHA’s most frequently cited standards.

In 2010, the agency handed out 94,000 citations related to HAZCOM violations putting HAZCOM in third place, behind fall protection and scaffolding violations.

HAZCOM is a perennial top five finisher in OSHA citation issues. Citations usually fall into one of five main categories:
• Failure to develop and maintain a written HAZCOM program
• Failure to maintain training
• Lack of employee training
• Failure to have an MSDS for each hazardous chemical
• Failure to label each container with the identity of the hazardous chemical within

OSHA Annual List
OSHA publishes an annual list of the categories and reasons for citations as a way to alert employers so they can take steps to find and fix common, easily corrected hazards in the workplace before an OSHA inspection occurs. All the HCS standards, publications, training guides, and statistical information are available on the OSHA website.

One can search the most frequently cited Federal or State OSHA standards for a specified 4-digit Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code, by number of employees and by state.

Here are some changes OSHA has rendered in industrial safety regulation over the years of its existence.

The OSHA Top-Ten:
1. Guards on all moving parts — By 1970, there were guards to prevent inadvertent contact with most moving parts that were accessible in the normal course of operation. With OSHA, use of guards expanded to cover essentially all parts where contact is possible.
2. Permissible exposure limits (PEL) — Maximum concentrations of chemicals stipulated by regulation for chemicals and dusts. They cover around 600 chemicals. Most came from standards issued by other organizations in 1968 or before.
3. Personal protective equipment (PPE) — broader use of respirators, gloves, coveralls, and other protective equipment when handling hazardous chemicals including goggles, face shields, and ear protection in typical industrial environments
4. Lockout/tag out — in the 1980s, requirements for locking out energy sources (securing them in an “off” condition) when performing repairs or maintenance
5. Confined space — In the 1990s, specific requirements for air sampling and use of a “buddy system” when working inside tanks, manholes, pits, bins, and similar enclosed areas started.
6. Hazard Communication (HAZCOM’s) — Also known as the “Right to Know” standard, was issued as 29 CFR 1910.1200 on November 25, 1983 (48 FR 53280), requires developing and communicating information on the hazards of chemical products used in the workplace.
7. Process Safety Management (PSM) — Issued in 1992 as 29 CFR 1910.119, PSM was to reduce large-scale industrial accidents. Although enforcement of the standard has been spotty, its principles have long been widely accepted by the petrochemical industry.
8. Blood-borne Pathogens (BBP) — In 1990, OSHA issued a standard designed to prevent health care (and other) workers from exposure to blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis B and HIV.
9. Excavations and Trenches — OSHA regulations specify that trenches and excavations wherein workers are working five feet or more down must have and the employer must provide safeguards in addition to proper sloping and storage of excavated material in order to prevent collapses/cave-ins.
10. Exposure to asbestos — OSHA has established requirements in 29 CFR 1910.1001 for occupational exposure to asbestos. These requirements apply to most workplaces — most notably excepted is construction work. “Construction work” means work for construction, alteration and/or repair including painting and decorating. Occupational exposure requirements for asbestos in construction work are in 29 CFR 1926.1101.

Nicholas Sheble ( is an engineering writer and technical editor in Raleigh, NC.[/private]

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