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Cleaning Chemicals in the Workplace
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It is well recognized that employees have both a right and a need to know about the hazards associated with the chemicals they are exposed to when working. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is designed to provide employees with the critical information they need so they are better prepared to take steps to reduce exposure, substitute less hazardous materials, and establish safe work practices.

Through the effective communication of hazard information, the Hazard Communication Standard seeks to prevent the occurrence of work-related injuries and illnesses caused by chemical use and exposure. Such information is communicated through the use of container labels, material safety data sheets and employee training.

What Standards Apply?

OSHA: Hazard Communication Standard -- 29 CFR 1910.1200

What Does the Standard Require?

The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requires that employees be provided with hazard information about the chemicals with which they work. Employees receive such information through the effective labeling of hazardous product containers, through the availability of material safety data sheets, and through comprehensive training programs.

What Are the Common Hazards and Solutions?

Working with hazardous chemicals can be a dangerous endeavor and the consequences can be serious. Exposure to hazardous chemicals can contribute to many health effects, including heart ailments and kidney and lung damage. The use of chemicals also has the potential to cause fires, explosions and serious accidents.

The problem is intensified if employees are not familiar with the chemicals they are working with or if they are not made fully aware of all of the hazards associated with those chemicals to which they may be exposed. The key, therefore, is the effective communication of information.

Material safety data sheets (MSDS) represent the primary source of hazard information and must be readily accessible to workers. They should contain all pertinent physical and health hazard information, exposure limits, precautions for safe handling and use, and applicable control measures including personal protective equipment use requirements.

Product labeling is also an effective method used to communicate hazard information. Intended to be an immediate visual reminder of the hazards presented by a chemical product, labels are required to include all appropriate physical and health hazard warnings.

Effective employee training is also crucial. Employers are required to provide workers with information and training regarding the chemicals they will work with. Training must be provided prior to exposure to a hazardous chemical.

It is important to keep in mind that it is not enough to make the information available. Rather, employers need to make sure that hazard information is fully understood by employees. Employers, therefore, must take into account language barriers, illiteracy and other factors and take all actions necessary to ensure that employees gain the necessary understanding of all hazards associated with those chemicals they may be exposed to.

Ultimately, employers must develop and implement a written hazard communication program that includes all of the elements of hazard communication referenced above.

What Are My Responsibilities?

All members of the cleaning industry (manufacturers, distributors, and facility service providers) play an important role under the Hazard Communication Standard and have key responsibilities they must fulfill. The following provides an overview of major responsibilities:

Chemical Manufacturers / Importers: Determine the hazards associated with each chemical product; obtain or develop MSDSs for each hazardous chemical they produce or import.

Chemical Manufacturers / Importers / Distributors: Communicate hazard information and associated measures downstream to customers by providing compliant container labels and MSDSs.

Employers (Includes Manufacturers, Distributors and Facility Service Providers):

  • Identify and list all chemicals that may be found in the workplace
  • Obtain MSDSs for hazardous products and ensure they are readily accessible
  • Make sure all containers are labeled as required by the Hazard Communication Standard and in accordnace with all state right-to-know laws that may apply, including affirmatively labeling all secondary or portable containers into which hazardous chemicals are transferred
  • Identify those employees who must be trained in accordance with the standard and conduct the necessary training
  • Develop and implement a written hazard communication program (Note: Employers who only handle chemicals in sealed containers, such as distributors, are exempt from this requirement).

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