Avoid OSHA citations for HAZCOM: Compliance Guide

OSHA HAZCOM and chemicals

Depending on which industry you are involved in, you might have to deal with federal agencies that regulate chemicals in commerce.

A smorgasbord of federal regulations apply to the manufacturer, production , distribution, sale, transport, storage, use, and proper disposal of chemicals.

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) plus the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all regulate various areas of producing, transporting, using, and disposing of hazardous substances. 

Agencies in the USA also attempt to ensure their domestic regulations conform to international agreements and standards.

Nongovernmental industry groups can also get involved. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed consensus standards for safely storing and handling chemicals and alerting first responders of chemical hazards at sites.

outline of the regulatory scheme for chemicals

An outline of the regulatory scheme for chemicals includes:

  • The EPA, that regulates new chemicals and new uses of chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and regulates the distribution, sale, and use of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
  • The United Nations’ UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, referred to as the ‘Orange Book’, is a model regulation of standards for containers, packages, and placards used in hazardous materials transportation.
  • Hazardous materials transportation in the USA is regulated by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975 (HMTA).
  • The UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), referred to as the ‘Purple Book’, is a model regulation for chemical testing, hazard classification, and hazard communication. The GHS standard is covered in the OSHA hazard communication standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1200 , this includes HAZCOM training which in turn is part of OSHA 10 Hour certification.
  • The OSHA process safety management (PSM) standard sets out industry requirements for preventing or minimizing catastrophic releases of chemicals that apply across industries. Requirements under the PSM standard include performing a process hazard analysis to examine what can go wrong and evaluating possible safeguards, coordinating with contractors, planning for emergencies, and training employees.
  • OSHA has set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for many toxic and hazardous substances such as asbestos, benzene, cadmium, and formaldehyde in 29 CFR Subpart Z.
  • There are more chemicals without PELs, for these  a ‘control banding’ approach is used to address the hazards of substances without any established occupational exposure limits.
  • Hazardous waste disposal is regulated by the EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), but OSHA also regulates the health and safety of workers through its Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard (1910.120) which includes the various HAZWOPER certification programs.
  • The NFPA developed a standard (NFPA 704) for labeling containers, tanks, and facilities to alert firefighters and other first responders to fire, health, and other hazards.

Chemical Safety Board

When things go wrong, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigates chemical accidents.

The CSB does not issue any citations or impose any penalties. A CSB investigation attempts to identify root causes and contributing factors in chemical accidents, then makes recommendations for organizations and government agencies.

Valuable lessons can be learned from the CSB’s investigation reports and recommendations

Frequently cited OSHA standard: Hazard communication

The OSHA chemical safety regulation that is most often cited is the hazard communication standard, the agency’s second most frequently cited standard after its construction industry fall protection standard. OSHA cited 2424 hazard communication violations in the financial year (FY) of 2022.

Industries most frequently cited for hazard communication violations include:

  • Accommodation and food services 
  • Construction, 
  • Manufacturing
  • Waste management and remediation services 
  • Wholesale trade and services. 

That being said, the workplaces covered by the standard did expand during the Covid19 pandemic as more employers handled, stored, and used disinfectants.

OSHA penalties for chemical safety violations can be large..

OSHA Inspections by a CSHO

OSHA issued updated inspection procedures for the hazard communication standard in 2015.

OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) may cite an organization for missing elements of a hazard communication program, for example:

  •  Containers without chemical labels
  • Missing SDSs for chemicals in the workplace,  
  • Training lapses 
  • Lack of a written program.

Both host employers and contract agencies may be cited if temporary workers are not trained on chemical hazards and labels, or if they cannot access SDSs for chemicals in the workplace.

During an inspection, CSHOs will review the written program and confirm that it includes:

  1.  A complete inventory of all hazardous substances.
  2. Methods for informing employees of hazards encountered in nonroutine tasks and the hazards of substances in unlabeled pipes.
  3. Methods for informing other employers’ employees at multiemployer worksites.
  4. Ensuring all employees can and know how to access the program.

Inspectors will also review the description of the labeling system in the written program and any alternatives used for labeling containers in the workplace. 

You must designate a person responsible for labeling containers stored in – or shipped out of – the workplace. 

CSHO Safety Data Sheet Checks

Inspectors will also check your procedures for reviewing and updating labels in the workplace and that you have assigned responsibility to someone for your SDS collection. 

A CSHO will want to know how data sheets are maintained:

  • Are print copies stored in notebooks in work areas or in a pickup truck at a jobsite?
  • Are they accessed via fax or electronically?
  • Do you have backup systems in the event that electronic equipment fails?
  • How do employees and contractors access the SDSs?
  • What procedures are in place when an SDS isn’t received with its initial shipment or if you suspect an SDS isn’t current or appropriate?
  • How do you determine if the SDSs you have are current?

If you don’t receive an SDS with a shipment, your local OSHA area office may be able to help you obtain one.

Inspectors will compare your collection of SDSs against the chemical inventory in your written hazard communication program. They will also check that your collection of SDSs is up to datet.

The OSHA inspector will also interview employees and supervisors during an inspection to evaluate your compliance with the standard’s training requirements. 

CSHOs use interviews to determine whether workers understand the hazards of chemicals in their workplace.

Employees and their supervisors must be aware of:

  • Hazards they are exposed to. 
  • How to read container labels.
  • How to find, read, and understand Safety Data Sheets.
  • Know what precautions to take when exposed to hazardous substances.

HAZCOM Training Program

OSHA inspectors will attempt to determine whether you have a training program and whether employees are trained before their first assignment and trained again when new substances are introduced into the workplace. 

They will also check that employees have received training on your in-house labeling system if you have one.

Summary: Avoiding HAZCOM related OSHA citations

Hazard communication is an ongoing responsibility, not a “check-the-box” compliance issue. 

Your written program is the cornerstone of your compliance; it needs to cover:

  • How you will handle labels and other warnings.
  • SDSs.
  • Employee information and training.

During an inspection, CSHOs will look for a written hazard communication program, container labels, the availability of SDSs, and the effectiveness of your training program.

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