Hazard Communication at Work

Chemicals directly or indirectly affect our lives and are essential to our food, health, and lifestyle. The widespread use of chemicals has resulted in developing sector-specific regulations, for instance in transport, production, agriculture, trade, and consumer products.

Hazard Communication protects workers from hazardous chemicals that are present in the workplace. To meet this goal, OSHA developed Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200, the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The HCS contains processes and procedures for employers to implement to effectively communicate to employees hazards associated with chemicals during handling, shipping, and any form of exposure in the workplace. The HCS is also known as the “employee right-to-know” standard. This refers to an employee’s “right to know” about the hazards of the chemicals they work with.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a system for standardizing the classification and labeling of chemicals. While many countries already had similar classification and labeling laws and regulations in place, the differences between regulations were enough to require multiple labels for the same product both within the U.S. and in international trade, and to require multiple SDSs for the same product in international trade. In addition, several U.S. regulatory agencies and various countries had different requirements for hazard definitions, as well as for information to be included on labels or SDSs. A standardized approach to classifying chemicals and communicating information was needed. The GHS provides a common approach to classifying chemicals, communicates hazard information through the use of standardized labels and SDSs, and reduces trade barriers.

Today, OSHA’s HCS is aligned with the GHS and provides a standardized approach to classifying chemicals and communicating information. The standard requires all employers to develop a program addressing the following:

  • Hazard classifications classifies chemicals as health or physical hazards, as well as the severity of the hazards.
  • Safety data sheets (SDSs) provides detailed information about each chemical, such as the properties, protective measures, and safe handling procedures of the chemical. The SDS is organized into a specified 16-section format.
  • Labels includes a signal word, statement, and pictogram (symbol) for each hazard class and category. There are 9 pictograms. Each pictogram represents a distinct hazard.
  • Training employees on SDS information and safe chemical procedures and practices is required upon initial employment, when a new hazardous product/chemical is introduced into the workplace, if there is a change in process, or as deemed necessary.
  • Information Methods are tactics the employer will use to inform employees of hazards.

Having readily available information on the hazardous properties of chemicals and recommended control measures allows the production, transport, use, and disposal of chemicals to be managed safely. Thus, human health and the workplace environment are protected.