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Workers' Rights When It Comes to Chemical Hazards at Work

HCS stands for Hazard Communication Standard, which is the OSHA standard with the goal to ensure employers and workers know about chemical hazards in the workplace and how to protect themselves.

Old Chemicals, Gross and Dusty, Labels Peeling Off
IMPORTANT! OSHA Standard 1926.59 The requirements applicable to construction work under this section are identical to those set forth at 1910.1200. All 1910 General Industry standards referenced in this article are also applicable to the construction industry.

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard is important because it enforces the idea that workers have the right to know about:

  1. What chemicals are in the areas you will be working in?
  2. What are the hazards of those chemicals?
  3. How do you protect yourself from those hazards?
OSHA Standards 1910.1200 The purpose of this section is to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are classified, and that information concerning the classified hazards is transmitted to employers and employees. The requirements of this section are intended to be consistent with the provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), Revision 3. The transmittal of information is to be accomplished by means of comprehensive hazard communication programs, which are to include container labeling and other forms of warning, safety data sheets and employee training.
Hazardous Chemical in a Work Environment

Workers have a right to know what chemicals are in their workplace, especially if they have to use them as a part of their job. The Hazard Communication Standard requires that chemical manufacturers and importers must develop a Safety Data Sheet or SDS for each chemical they produce or import. Safety Data Sheets contain valuable information about the hazards of specific chemicals and an SDS must be kept on hand for each chemical at the job site.

OSHA Standard 1910.1200(g)(8) The employer shall maintain in the workplace copies of the required safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical, and shall ensure that they are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s).

Workers should be familiar with the potential hazards of any chemical they use at work. It is important that all chemicals be labeled properly.

Sample OSHA and GHS Label for Ammonia
Sample OSHA & GHS Label
OSHA Standard 1910.1200(f)(6) Workplace labeling. …the employer shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked…

Chemicals that are not properly labeled, or that have damaged labels, should never be used and these chemicals should be reported to the manager or supervisor immediately.

Bottles of Chemicals with No Label

Containers that are not labeled and/or are stored improperly creates a serious hazard for any individual who tries to use the chemicals. It also creates a risk as these chemicals could react if they make contact or spill.

OSHA Standard 1910.1200(h) Employee information and training. Employers shall provide employees with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new chemical hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area.

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