New OSHA Guide on Hazardous Chemicals for Small Businesses


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a guide to help small businesses develop an effective hazard communication program and comply with OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The HCS is aimed at improving employees’ understanding of the health and physical hazards associated with chemical substances.

Since the HCS was implemented in 1983, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reports that hazard communication programs have helped reduce acute illnesses and injuries in the workplace due to chemical exposure by 42%. OSHA estimates the updated HCS will prevent an additional 585 injuries and illnesses and 43 fatalities annually.

While many HCS provisions apply only to chemical manufacturers, importers or distributors, this new document, Small Entity Compliance Guide for Employers That use Hazardous Chemicals, focuses on assisting smaller employers who only use — but do not produce — chemicals.

The guide is intended to help small businesses identify the parts of the rule that apply to them and includes steps to develop and implement an effective hazard communication policy.  This includes providing workers with access to labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and informing and training employees on the hazards of chemicals, appropriate protective measures to take and how to obtain additional information.

Although the HCS initially covered only the manufacturing sector, it now applies to all industries where workers are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals. The 2012 revised HCS incorporated SDSs, updated hazardous classifications and expanded labeling requirements. OSHA also aligned HCS communication requirements with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

Over the course of the next few years, suppliers will be updating labels and SDSs to comply with the new requirements to meet the June 1, 2015 deadline. Because smaller employers may continue to receive both pre-2012 HCS labels and updated labels from their distributors until December 1, 2015, they must ensure their employees are able to access and use the information provided in the new system during this transition.

After the transition, employers have until June 1, 2016 to comply with the revised HCS. Employers must update their hazard communication program with any new reclassified hazardous chemicals, ensure workplace labeling reflects those new hazards and train employees on the new hazards and rules.

Hazard communication training programs must ensure that workers comprehend and understand the law. Reading the material to employees or providing handouts is not enough. Employers are responsible for implementing a more active hazard communication program. Such training not only complies with OSHA regulations, but helps workers better protect themselves and be more productive in the workplace by following proper practices and procedures.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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