The U.S. workplace safety watchdog is requiring a change in the way U.S. companies teach their employees about potentially dangerous chemicals they come into contact with.
The changes are expected to make the workplace safer for millions of workers while also making the companies more competitive in the global market.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) already requires businesses that use and make hazardous chemicals to inform workers of health hazards and physical hazards. The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers and businesses that import chemicals to label them and prepare safety data sheets for workers. It also requires these employers to have a “hazard communication program” to teach workers about the dangers of exposure.
The United Nations also has a global chemical labeling system known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). OSHA’s update to HCS will make the HCS consistent with GHS. Once implemented later this year, the revised standard will help businesses overcome trade barriers they currently face by using hazard standards that are inconsistent with GHS.
According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the soon-to-be-implemented upgrade will make workers safer and make it easier for employers to keep them productive.
“Exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious threats facing American workers today,” Solis said via the OSHA website. “Revising OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employers to stay competitive.”
OSHA says the revised HCS will:
- Prevent an estimated 43 deaths per year.
- Result in an estimated $475.2 million in enhanced productivity for U.S. businesses per year.
- Save U.S. businesses $32.2 million per year.
- Prevent an estimated 585 injuries and illnesses per year.
- Reduce trade barriers for businesses that operate globally.
The HCS was conceived to maintain safety for workers by informing them of identities, properties, and potential harmful effects of the chemicals they work with. Under the HCS, such information must not only be developed by chemical manufacturers and importers, but also conveyed to their customers through labels and safety data sheets.
Companies that have harmful chemicals in their workplaces, meanwhile, are required to make these labels and safety data sheets available to their employees. They’re also required to train them how to handle the chemicals properly.
Chemical manufacturers and importers will now be required to prepare labels that carry a pictogram, a “harmonized signal word” (such as “warning” or “radioactive”), and a hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements are also required. Safety data sheets will need to be in the required 16-section format for uniformity and readability.
In addition, employers are now obligated to train all their workers on the new labels and safety data sheets format by December 1, ensuring that they will be able to recognize the symbols and pictograms and understand the significance of the hazard information included.