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Protecting Workers From Hazardous Workplace Chemicals

Julie Copeland

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More than 32 million workers (which includes more than 20% of the entire U.S. workforce)Protect workers from hazardous workplace chemicals. 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.  

Hazardous chemicals were the cause of nearly 3 million nonfatal private industry injuries or illnesses in 2012. The dangers of these chemicals present extreme challenges for employers and their workers.

  • 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) is the second most common type of occupational disease.

  • 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.

  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that 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.

Last week, OSHA announced a partnership with Health Canada to coordinate labelling and classification requirements for hazardous workplace chemicals. OSHA shared that it will continue their partnership with Health Canada to align United States and Canadian regulatory approaches regarding labelling and classification requirements for workplace chemicals through the Regulatory Cooperation Council.

As stated in the OSHA press release, the goal of the partnership is to implement a system allowing the use of one label and one safety data sheet that would be acceptable in both countries. OSHA and Health Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 to promote ongoing collaboration on implementing the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling in their respective jurisdictions.

OSHA's Hazard Communication Web page includes links to the agency's revised Hazard Communication standard and guidance materials. This includes frequently asked questions, fact sheets and Quick Cards.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

The federal government, through 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 Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). 

The purpose of these rules is to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries caused by chemicals. 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.

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.

Facilities using hazardous materials must develop and implement a hazard communication (HAZCOM) program that includes a written plan, employee training, chemical inventory and SDSs. Upon completion of training, workers will understand the Hazard Communication Standard, safety data sheets (SDS), the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labeling of chemicals and personal protective equipment requirements. This information includes the new GHS guidelines that OSHA requires on the new label elements (i.e., pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statements, and signal words) and SDS format effective December 1, 2013.

In addition to Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) training, Arbill offers a full line of chemical-resistant gloves with a number of different coatings for protection. We are here to help protect your workers with the right equipment. For more information about making your workplace safer, contact the safety specialists at 800.523.5367 or visit www.arbill.com.

Stay safe!

Topics: Chemical Safety/HazMat/Spill Prevention

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