OSHA Hazard Communication Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to issue more citations for violations of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), often referred to as OSHA’s “Right-to-Know” rule, than for violations of any other standard. It was the most frequently cited OSHA standard again in fiscal year 2003 and has consistently remained OSHA’s number one citation since the standard was expanded to include all industries in 1988.

In March 2004, OSHA announced a new initiative in hopes of improving hazard communication in the workplace through compliance assistance and enforcement. With this new initiative and the fact that it has consistently been the most frequently cited standard, it may be a good time to check to see if you have a hazard communication program in place and, if you do, to review your existing program.

Five Key Elements
1. Written Hazard Communication Program – All workplaces where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals must have a written plan, which describes how the standard will be implemented in that facility. All compressed gases are classified as hazardous chemicals.

2. Chemical Inventory List – This is a current list of all hazardous chemicals in the workplace that identifies the chemical as referenced by the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

3. Labeling and Other Forms of Warning – In-plant containers of hazardous chemicals must be labeled, tagged or marked with the identity of the material and appropriate hazard warning.

4. Material Safety Data Sheets – Employers must have an MSDS for each hazardous chemical included on their chemical inventory list.

5. Employee Training and Information – Employers must train employees on hazardous chemicals in the work area at the time of initial job assignment and whenever the hazard changes.

Key Elements Most Frequently Cited
Failure to have a written hazard communication program is the most frequently cited HCS. If OSHA inspects your workplace for compliance with HCS, the OSHA compliance officer will ask to see your written plan at the outset of the inspection. A model Hazard Communication Program is included in your GAWDA OSHA Manual behind Section 17.

Failure to properly train employees before they are assigned to work with hazardous chemicals. The written program should designate the person responsible for the training and the specific information that will be covered in the training. An HCS Training Checklist is included in your GAWDA OSHA Manual behind Section 17.

OSHA Compliance Assistance
OSHA compliance assistance includes a new comprehensive Web page containing materials on hazard communication, a model training program to assist in developing workplace training programs, and education and outreach through OSHA’s alliance with the Society for Chemical Hazard Communication. The enforcement component includes the development of a system for compliance officers to review and assess the adequacy of MSDSs.

OSHA has many hazard communication resources available on its Web site at www.osha.gov including the following two publications: “Chemical Hazard Communication” (OSHA publication 3084) and “Hazard Communication Guidelines for Compliance” (OSHA publication 3111).

If you are operating in an OSHA-approved State Plan state, you must comply with the state’s requirements, which may be different from those of the federal rule. If you are located in such a state, you should become familiar with your state’s requirements.

Checklist for Compliance
Following this brief checklist will help ensure you are in compliance with the HCS.
  • Obtained a copy of the rule.
  • Read and understand the requirements.
  • Assigned responsibility for tasks.
  • Prepared an inventory of chemicals.
  • Ensured containers are labeled.
  • Obtained MSDS for each chemical.
  • Prepared written program.
  • Made MSDSs available to employees.
  • Conducted training of workers.
  • Established procedures to maintain current program.
  • Established procedures to evaluate effectiveness.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
GAWDA OSHA & EPA Consultant Thomas W. Eynon is senior associate at B&R Compliance Associates LLC, based in Merritt, North Carolina. Members can reach him at 252-745-7391 and at tom.eynon@brcompliance.com.