Hazard communication: Successful strategies to avoid one of the most commonly cited violations
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February 04, 2019
Hazard communication: Successful strategies to avoid one of the most commonly cited violations

Environmental, health, and safety (EHS) managers must be constantly aware of the numerous and ever-changing chemicals that are present at their facility, as each chemical presents unique risks to the workforce and other onsite personnel. Seemingly innocent mistakes such as storing a chemical improperly or mislabeling a container can lead to potentially catastrophic consequences. Therefore, it is imperative that EHS managers take the necessary steps to ensure the safe usage and handling of chemicals within their facility.

As an EHS professional, it’s hard to tell if you are being paid competitively, and as an employer, it’s hard to tell if you are offering salaries that are competitive and efficient. For a Limited Time we’re offering a FREE copy of the 2018 EHS Salary Guide! Download Now

A key component in the safe usage and handling of chemicals is complying with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) [29 CFR 1910.1200].  The HCS requires the classification of potential hazards associated chemicals and the communication of information about the hazards and appropriate protective measures to employees.  The communication of these hazards takes many forms, including written programs, specific labeling requirements, safety data sheets (SDS), and training.

It seems straightforward, but the devil is in the details, as evidenced by violations of the HCS being consistently among the most cited by OSHA each year. In an effort to help you stay off OSHA’s enforcement ledger, environmental and occupational safety attorney, Kathryn McMahon of Conn Maciel Carey LLP, offers answers to the following questions:

Question: Do employers have to provide information and training on each specific chemical under the standard?
Answer: No, the standard is clear.  Employers may provide information and training that is designed to cover categories of hazards (e.g., flammability, carcinogenicity) or specific chemicals.

Question: If a chemical is imported from a foreign supplier by a U.S. company for use in its own workplace only, is the U.S. importer now considered the responsible party?
Answer:  Yes, according to OSHA.  In a Letter of Interpretation issued on September 18, 2018, OSHA said that the first U.S. company (importer/distributor) to receive shipment from a foreign supplier is the responsible party for that chemical, and as such, assumes responsibility to ensure it is compliant with the standard, including classifying the chemical and developing or obtaining an SDS.  This is despite the fact that OSHA defines importers in the standard a little differently.  According to the definition, an importer is the first business with employees in the U.S. which receives hazardous chemicals produced in other countries for the purpose of supplying them to distributors or employers in the U.S.

Question: OSHA’s HCS is based on the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) Revision 3 (2009).  What if manufacturers, importers, distributors, or employers want to comply with more recent or future versions of the GHS issued by the United Nations, such as Revision 4?
Answer:  They can.  But, according to OSHA’s Compliance Directive, using Revision 4 or a more recent version may result in non-compliance if it contradicts or casts doubt on OSHA required information.  In that case, if a compliance officer notices a major difference that is not taken into account, he or she may issue of a serious citation.

Check out this BLR on-demand webinar addressing these issues and other essential elements of hazard communication, so that you can stay in compliance and minimize the risk of illness or injury to your workforce.

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