OSHA estimates that there are more than 650,000 hazardous chemical products in use in the United States. This means that approximately 3 million American workplaces and over 30 million workers could be potentially exposed to some sort of chemical product. OSHA’s #29CFR 1910.1200, Hazard Communication Standard, General Industry, was listed as Number 3 on their Top Ten Violations List for 2010.
This occupational safety and health standard is for the purpose of evaluating potential hazards of chemicals, and communicating information concerning hazards and appropriate protective measures to employees. There should be a written hazard communication program for the workplace, which includes lists of hazardous chemicals present, labeling of containers of chemicals in the workplace, as well as of containers of chemicals being shipped to other workplaces, and preparation and distribution of material safety data sheets to employees and downstream employers. It also includes development and implementation of employee training programs regarding hazards of chemicals and protective measures.
The HCS is a generic standard covering all hazardous chemicals as well as all workplaces where they are used. By providing information to employers and employees, steps can be taken to ensure protection at the workplace. Illnesses and injuries are reduced when both employers and employees modify their behavior as a result of receiving information about the hazards. Training of workers is necessary to ensure they understand the information provided, where they can get more information, and how they can use the information to protect themselves. Training is the means an employer can use to address risks related to the situation involved.
Material Safety Data Sheets are reference documents. They are a one-stop shopping source for everything you might need or want to know about a chemical. They must be useful to the safety and health professionals who decide what controls to use, first aid or medical treatment to provide, and the precautionary measures to follow. The information on MSDSs is usually technical, since it is generally written for health professionals. MSDSs must provide the specific chemical identity of the material, physical and chemical characteristics, and the physical hazards. Other information contained in the MSDSs are health hazards, including signs and symptoms of exposure, and medical conditions generally recognized as being aggravated by exposure to the chemical. Also to be included in the Material Safety Data Sheets are a list of the primary means of exposure: inhalation, ingestion, or absorption and whether the chemical is a known carcinogen. Other useful information should be listed, such as generally applicable precautions for safe handling and use of the chemical, emergency and first aid procedures, date of preparation or latest revision, and the name, address, and phone number of a person who can provide additional information and appropriate emergency procedures if needed.
The most important way that this standard works today to reduce chemical source illnesses and injuries is to ensure that workers and those who provide protections for workers – physicians, nurses, industrial hygienists, safety engineers, and other professionals – have the information they need about the chemical to devise protections. Then they must choose the appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and controls such as substitution, by knowing what chemicals are present, and what their physical and chemical effects are. Under the requirements of the Hazard Communications Standard, employees have a right-to-know the identities of the chemicals they are exposed to and what hazards are present.