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HazCom and a Worker’s Right to Know

Chemicals pose a wide range of physical hazards and health hazards to LIUNA members, from skin irritation and sensitization to exposure to known carcinogens. OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard, also known as the “Right to Know Law,” is designed to ensure that vital information about chemical hazards and protective measures is passed along to workers who may come in contact with or handle these types of chemicals.

OSHA’s HazCom standard requires companies to evaluate the chemicals they produce or import, then provide information about any hazards. This information is relayed using a universal labeling system – the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) – with more detailed information being provided on safety data sheets (SDSs).

Requirements of the HazCom Standard

OSHA’s HazCom standard requires employers to take the following actions if hazardous chemicals exist in the workplace:

  • Implement a written hazard communication program
  • Ensure all chemical containers are labeled
  • Provide SDSs to employees
  • Train all workers who could potentially be exposed on the hazards and available protective measures

OSHA requires this information to be presented in a manner and language that employees can understand. All of this information must be shared with employees when work is assigned and again when a new chemical hazard is introduced that workers have not previously been trained on. Providing this information alongside safety data sheets allows workers to effectively participate in an employer’s protection program and take steps to protect themselves.

Training Employees to Understand Labeling

OSHA’s HazCom standard is called the “Right to Know” law because it gives workers information about the health risks of chemicals that they wouldn’t normally have access to. However, as OSHA notes on its Hazard Communication page, the standard could also be called the “Right to Understand” law because of all the worker training requirements it includes. The standard requires employers to train workers on the following information related to the labeling of hazardous chemicals:

    1. Product identifier. This can be, but isn’t limited to, the chemical name, code number or batch number.
    2. Pictograms. The standard designates eight pictograms that correspond to various hazard categories. These pictograms are in the shape of a square set at a point and include a black hazard symbol on a white background with a red frame.
    3. Signal word. There are only two signal words – “Danger” (used for more severe hazards) and “Warning” (used for less severe hazards). Only one signal word is used on the label no matter how many hazards a chemical presents.
    4. Hazard statement. These statements describe the nature of the hazard specific to the hazard classification categories. For example, a statement could be “Causes damage to kidneys through prolonged or repeated exposure when absorbed through the skin.”
  1. Precautionary statement. This describes recommended measures that should be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects from exposure, improper storage or handling. This could include keeping the chemical away from an open flame, using only non-sparking tools, not breathing vapors or a number of other precautions.
  2. Supplier identification. Provides the name, address and phone number of the chemical manufacturer, distributor or importer.

Training employees to interpret labels on harmful chemicals helps ensure proper handling and storage and that employees are able to quickly locate important information in a first-aid situation.

For more information on hazardous chemicals in the workplace, order the Fund’s Toxics pamphlet from our online Publications Catalogue. You can also find more information on OSHA’s Hazard Communication page.

[Nick Fox]

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