Hazard Communication an Employee’s Right to Know

About one in every four workers routinely comes in contact with hazardous chemicals while performing his or her job. In many cases, the chemicals may be no more dangerous than those used at home. But in the workplace, exposure is likely to be greater, concentrations higher, and exposure time longer. Reactions to chemical exposures range from slight skin, eye, or respiratory irritation to life-threatening cancers, blood diseases, and debilitating lung damage.

OSHA developed the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to protect workers from these dangerous exposures. The standard is based on a simple concept — that employees have both a need and a right to know about the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need to know what they can do to protect themselves. Additionally, when employers have information about the chemicals being used, they can take steps to reduce exposures, substitute less hazardous materials, and establish safe work practices to prevent illnesses and injuries caused by these substances.

The HCS establishes uniform requirements to make sure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into, produced, or used in U.S. workplaces are evaluated and that this hazard information is forwarded to employers and exposed employees. Basically, the rule incorporates a downstream flow of information. This means that chemical manufacturers have the primary responsibility for generating and disseminating information and chemical users must obtain the information and transmit it to their exposed employees.

Evaluating chemical hazards involves technical concepts and is a process that requires the professional judgement of experienced experts. That’s why the HCS is designed so that employers who simply use chemicals, rather than produce or import them, are not required to evaluate the hazards of those substances.

Hazard determination is the responsibility of the producers and importers of the materials, who must then pass that information to the purchasers and end-users of the products. Employers that don’t produce or import chemicals need only focus on those parts of the rule that deal with establishing a workplace program and communicating information to their workers.

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