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Hazardous Chemicals are Threatening our American Workers

Julie Copeland

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Hazardous chemicals were the cause of nearly 3 million nonfatal private industry injuries or illnesses in 2012. According to former US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, "Exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious threats facing American workers today."

Hazardous chemicals are threatening our American workers.
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2012, more than half of the nearly 3 million cases were of a more serious nature that involved days away from work, job transfer or restriction of duties;

  • Workplace chemical exposures have been linked to cancers, and other lung, kidney, skin, heart, stomach, brain, nerve, and reproductive diseases.

  • According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Skin Disease (OSD) are the second most common type of occupational disease.

  • You might not know that Chemical agents are the main cause of occupational skin diseases and disorders. These agents are divided into two types: primary irritants and sensitizers. Primary or direct irritants act directly on the skin though chemical reactions. Sensitizers may not cause immediate skin reactions, but repeated exposure can result in allergic reactions.

    • A worker’s skin may be exposed to hazardous chemicals through:

      • direct contact with contaminated surfaces,

      • deposition of aerosols,

      • immersion, or

      • splashes.

Where are these injuries and illnesses happening?

More than 32 million workers (more than 20% of the entire U.S. workforce) are exposed to hazardous chemical products in the workplace. According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) 650,000 different chemicals are present in more than 3 million American workplaces including the following industries.

  • Manufacturing

  • Construction

  • Auto Shops

  • Ship Yards

  • Beauty Salons

  • Dental Offices

  • Hospitals

  • Offices and Stores



The federal government, through the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) aims to ensure chemical safety in the workplace through a variety of workplace regulations.  For example:

  • Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they use and prepare safety data sheets (SDSs) for employees and downstream customers. 

  • Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must have labels and safety data sheets for all exposed workers, and also train workers in proper methods of handling chemicals.  OSHA calls these requirements its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). 

The purpose of these rules is to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries caused by chemicals.  In fact, OSHA states that workers have a right to know what chemicals they are exposed to.  The HCS has more rules for employers that produce or import chemicals, although other employers must still keep employees aware of possible chemical exposure and develop a workplace program for notifying workers.  The HCS cover chemicals in all physical forms: liquids, gases, vapors, fumes, and mists, regardless of whether they are in a container.  Training must be done at the time of initial assignment and whenever a new chemical hazard is introduced into the work area. INFORMATION MUST ALWAYS BE AVAILABLE THROUGH LABELS AND SAFETY DATA SHEETS.


Training …  

The OSHA standard 1910.1200 requires that information and training includes the following:  

  • Methods and observations that may be used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area;

  • The physical, health, simple asphyxiation, combustible dust, and pyrophoric gas hazards, as well as hazards not otherwise classified, of the chemicals in the work area;

  • The measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as appropriate work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment to be used; and,

  • The details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer, including an explanation of the labels received on shipped containers and the workplace labeling system used by their employer; the safety data sheet, including the order of information and how employees can obtain and use the appropriate hazard information.

  What’s at stake?

  • In April 2014, The US Department of Labor’s OSHA cited iWorks Personnel Inc. dba Preferred Staffing in San Antonio, TX for failing to ensure the proper information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area.  The proposed fine for this serious violation is $6.500.00.

  • In January 2014, The US Department of Labor’s OSHA cited Lapmaster Precision Finishing Services, LLC  in Dayton, OH for failing to ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals was labeled, tagged or marked with the identity of the hazardous chemicals contained.  Lapmaster was also cited for a repeat offense of failing to ensure the proper information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area.  The proposed fines totaled $17,500.

OSHA fines plus the cost of worker’s compensation, cost of days lost, employee morale etc. VS Cost of having an EH&S professional do Hazard Communication training for 10 employees <$2,000.00.  

Look for more information on creating a culture of safety within your organization on our Arbill Blog. Today’s article is Working with Hazardous Chemicals.

Topics: Chemical Safety/HazMat/Spill Prevention

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