Responsibilities under the Hazard Communication Standard
The HCS requires information to be prepared and transmitted regarding all hazardous chemicals. It covers both physical hazards (such as flammability), and health hazards (such as irritation, lung damage, and cancer). Most chemicals used in the workplace have some hazard potential and will be covered by the rule.
Chemical manufacturers and importers have to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Using that information, they prepare labels for containers and more detailed technical bulletins called material safety data sheets (MSDSs).
Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors of hazardous chemicals are required to automatically provide the appropriate labels and material safety data sheets to users when the chemicals are shipped. Every container of hazardous chemicals you receive must be labeled, tagged, or marked with the required information. A properly completed MSDS has to accompany the first shipment of the chemical and with the next shipment after the MSDS is updated.
Employers that use hazardous chemicals need to have a program in place to ensure the hazard information is provided to exposed employees. “Use” means to package, handle, react, or transfer. This is an intentionally broad scope, and includes any situation where a chemical is present in such a way that employees may be exposed under normal conditions or in an emergency.
If your employees are exposed to chemicals, you will need to develop a written hazard communication program that covers:
§ A chemical inventory list;
§ Container labels and other forms of warning;
§ Collection and availability of MSDSs; and
§ Employee information and training.
There are two types of work operations where the rule’s coverage is limited. These are laboratories and operations where chemicals are only handled in sealed containers, such as in a warehouse. Basically, employers having these types of work operations need to:
§ Keep labels on containers as they are received;
§ Maintain material safety data sheets that are received;
§ Give employees access to the MSDSs; and
§ Provide information and training for employees.
Laboratories and warehouse employers are not required to have written hazard communication programs and lists of chemicals.
The limited coverage of laboratories and sealed container operations addresses the obligation of an employer to the workers in the operations involved, and does not affect the employer’s duties as a distributor of chemicals. For more information, OSHA has developed a rule specifically for the safe use of chemicals in laboratories at §1910.1450.
For example, a distributor may have warehouse operations where employees would be protected under the limited sealed container provisions. In this situation, requirements for obtaining and maintaining MSDSs are limited to providing access to those received with containers while the substance is in the workplace, and requesting MSDSs when employees request access for those not received with the containers.
However, as a distributor of hazardous chemicals, that employer will still have responsibilities for providing MSDSs to downstream customers at the time of the first shipment and when the MSDS is updated. Therefore, although they may not be required for the employees in the work operation, the distributor may need MSDSs to satisfy other requirements of the rule.
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