It’s Your Right-To-Know

You have the right-to-know of any dangerous or hazardous chemicals that you may be working with or around in your current occupation. Being a safe worker involves more than just doing the right thing, watching out for yourself, and being well trained in hazardous response measures. It includes ensuring that your co-workers work safely, watch out for each other, and understand your employer’s hazardous response policies. A great training program will assist in making your place of employment a safer place. A component of that training program may include the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Your understanding of hazardous communications could save your life and the lives of many of your co-workers. The Hazard Communication Standard was designed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure that information about chemical hazards and the associated protective measures were properly disseminated by employers to employees. The standard provides you the right-to-know that hazards and identification of the chemicals that you are exposed to in your workplace. You want to have this information to be able to participate in your employer’s protective programs and to know what steps to take to protect yourself.

You should receive training. Employers must train employees at the time employees are assigned to work with a hazardous chemical. The training program must be a forum for explaining to employees the hazards of the chemicals in their work areas, as well as how to use the information generated in the hazard communication program. Training should be comprehensible and can be in categories of hazards (e.g., acutely toxic agents, carcinogens, sensitizers, etc.) that may be encountered by an employee during the course of their duties. Additional training may be required whenever a new physical or health hazard is introduced into the work, not necessarily a new chemical. The training provisions of the Hazard Communication Standard are not satisfied by an employer just giving an employee a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to read. You should be trained to be aware of work practices, measures used to protect your self and others, emergency procedures, and the personal protective equipment to be used. As an employee you should also know what a Material Safety Data Sheet is, know where they are located, have access to them, and be able to use the information provided to you in the Material Safety Data Sheet – which can save lives.

A Material Safety Data Sheet is a quick reference during hazardous response procedures. Hazard information must be transmitted on a Material Safety Data Sheet and must be distributed to the customer at the time of the first shipment of a potentially hazardous product. Although, Material Safety Data Sheet formats may vary, they are widely used to catalog information on chemicals, chemical compounds, and chemical mixtures. Pursuant to OSHA, a generic Material Safety Data Sheet must have minimum requirements, to include the name, address and telephone number of the responsible party preparing or distributing the Material Safety Data Sheet, who can provide additional information about the product or material. A Material Safety Data Sheet will include information such as physical data (e.g., flash point, boiling point, etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment, and spill-handling procedures. It may even include information regarding the safe use of the specific product or material. The intended primary focus of a Material Safety Data Sheet is regarding the hazards of working with specific material in an occupational setting. As a convenience, Material Safety Data Sheets may be maintained on a computer by your employer. However, employees must have access to the computer in their work areas(s) for the employer to be in compliance with the standard.

You should ensure that your workplace has an effective Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) Program. There are four (4) minimum components that any Hazard Communication Program should have, to include:

  1. A Written Plan. All workplaces where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals must have a written plan that describes how the standard will be implemented in that facility;
  2. Use of Labels. All containers of hazardous chemicals must be labeled, tagged, or marked with the identity of the material and appropriate hazard warnings;
  3. Use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to obtain or develop an MSDS for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. Distributors are responsible for ensuring that their customers are provided a copy of theses MSDSs. Employers must have an MSDS for each hazardous chemical they use; and
  4. A Training Component. Each employee who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals when working must be provided information and trained prior to his or her initial assignment to work with a hazardous chemical, and whenever the hazard changes.

Hazard Communication is addressed in specific standards for general industry, shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring, and the construction industry.

If you and your co-workers have a good understanding of the Hazard Communications Standard (HCS), Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and your employers’ Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) Program – you will save lives.

REMEMBER: Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to “comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”

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