Chemical Hazards – Your Right to Know

It is estimated that one-fourth of the United States’ work force is exposed to one or more chemical hazards in the workplace. Chemicals posing potential hazards include industrial solvents, detergents, and cleaning fluids containing a variety of different ingredients. Exposure to these and other common chemicals may cause or aggravate serious health problems.

Because of the safety and health problems associated with common chemicals as well as the lack of information available to many workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the Hazard Communication Standard. This standard applies to manufacturers, importers, and distributors of chemicals as well as to employers.

The basic purpose of this standard is to ensure that workers receive adequate warnings about chemicals in the workplace and instructions for safely using the chemicals. This is done through four basic requirements.

First, chemical manufacturers must evaluate their chemicals to determine any risks or hazards from exposure to the chemical.

Second, when a hazardous chemical leaves the manufacturer, its container must have a label with the following information:

  • The identity of the product
  • Adequate written hazard warnings
  • The name and address of the manufacturer of the chemicals.

Third, when the chemical is sold to the employer, the chemical supplier must provide the employer with a Material Safety Data Sheet. The data sheet should contain information about the health problems that can be caused by the chemical, emergency and first aid procedures for dealing with chemical exposure, and precautions for safe handling of the chemical, along with the manufacturer’s name, address, and telephone number.

Fourth, and finally, employers must make the Material Safety Data Sheet available to every employee who works with the chemical or who is otherwise exposed to it.

Workers have not always had the right to adequate warnings and instructions for the chemicals they use in the workplace. Take time to read your Material Safety Data Sheet along with the information on the chemical’s container.

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