Hazard Communication Basics — How Can You Help Keep Employees Safe?


Words: Nate Oland, Senior National Account Executive, Federated Mutual Insurance Company
Photo: Cantarella & Son Inc

There are hundreds of thousands of chemicals used in workplaces, leading to millions of workers in situations of potential exposure to one or more of them. Exposure to many of these chemicals can have dangerous side effects, including severe health problems or death. And not only are many of these chemicals dangerous to humans, they can also pose a risk to property if they ignite.

There are basic standards that hazardous chemical manufacturers, importers, suppliers, and employers must abide by in order to facilitate the safe production, transportation, and use of hazardous chemicals. It never hurts to refresh, or learn more, about how best to protect employees and your business from chemical hazards in the workplace.

The Importance of SDSs: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and labels for all hazardous chemicals that may be handled by an employee. The SDS contains the physical, health, environmental health, protective measures, and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting hazardous chemicals. For employers and their employees, the use of SDS are vital in keeping track of, and understanding, the dangers surrounding specific chemical use in workplaces. 

If you haven’t checked on the status of your SDSs lately, now is the time to do so. Store SDSs somewhere readily accessible to employees and located in a safe place near where the chemicals are kept. If you are missing an SDS, the supplier or manufacturer can be contacted to obtain a copy. 

Update Your Safety Labels: How can you promote safety when your employees are working with risky and dangerous materials? Start with safety labels. These written, printed, or illustrated pieces of information should always be located on the container or package a chemical is contained in. Understand that unlabeled chemicals post a serious safety threat. From the start, include safety labels on all chemicals, and train all employees to follow safety measures when using them.

Hazardous Chemical Training: Employees should receive consistent and frequent training regarding hazardous chemical usage, and they should understand and use the information in order to help create a safer work environment. This is especially true if there are large amounts of chemicals stored at your facility in which case, implementing general training based on hazard categories can help lower risk of injury. 

Utilize training checklists to ensure your business is on the right track. Documentation is important —maintaining training records can serve as evidence that training was provided, and can serve to keep everyone up to date on current or new chemicals in the workplace.  Review OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard to understand what written policies may be needed for employee training with respect to hazardous chemicals.

Brush Up on First-aid: Be sure that employees understand emergency and first-aid procedures, which are included on every hazardous chemical’s SDS sheet. Necessary first-aid instructions can apply to exposure due to, but not limited to, inhalation, skin and eye contact, and ingestion. Be sure that descriptions of what symptoms to look for are easily available, as well as recommendations for immediate medical care and special treatment if necessary.

Your employees’ safety is of the utmost importance, as is maintaining safe work standards at your business. By frequently checking on the status of the chemicals in your workplace, you could help save your employees, and your business, from potentially dangerous or deadly safety lapses.

This article is for general information only and should not be considered legal or other expert advice.  The recommendations herein may help reduce but are not guaranteed to eliminate any or all risk of loss.  The information herein may be subject to, and is not a substitute for, any laws or regulations that may apply.  This information is current as of June 2021 and is subject to change.  Qualified counsel should be sought with questions specific to your circumstances and in developing policies and procedures for your business.  © 2021 Federated Mutual Insurance Company.  

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