Taking Precautions with a Hazard Communication Program
When discussing hazard communication programs and chemicals in the workplace, most think the terms are exclusive to refineries and chemical providers. That is dangerously incorrect. Any company housing just the basics of cleaners can benefit from hazardous-chemical education.
Hazard communication programs can be used to facilitate the safe handling of harmful substances. Even a standard office practice, such as an attorney’s office, can benefit from such a program. Careless mixing of regular household cleaning products can produce a hazardous outcome. Even cleaning up some substances with a mop and water can render a chemical reaction that leads to serious injury and sometimes death.
To first understand how to handle and care for a particular chemical in the workplace, one must be able to identify its contents. If an individual does not know what is in the container, it is highly unlikely that proper managing points, cleanup procedures, and potential hazards can be effectively identified.
As a result, all containers housing chemicals must be properly labeled. One can pour the chemical into an unmarked container for immediate use; however, its contents must be returned to the labeled container from which it originated. If an employee happens across an unmarked container of a substance, it should never be tasted, nor should one apply the sniff test. Instead, it should be properly disposed of.
Companies must use a standard label as per the Global Harmonization Standard or GHS. The deadline has long passed its June 1, 2016 date and has remained effective in the workplace when followed. The standard stipulates that the correct label must be affixed to any chemical being introduced into the workplace.
Specific requirements must be met and provided for in the labeling system itself. They include:
- Product Name or Identifier
- Signal Word
- Hazard Statements
- Precautionary Statements
- Name, address, telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible parties.
Each of these components plays an important role in identifying chemicals in an effort to ensure safe use. The name or identifier is typically the chemical name like Sulfuric Acid. The pictogram is simply an identifying picture or graphic such as a skull and crossbones indicating the chemical is toxic.
Signal words, like “Danger,” serve as a direct and immediate warning to those who plan to utilize the chemical for a job task. Hazard statements tend to stipulate the harmful effects, like indicating harmful effects if direct contact is made with the skin. A precautionary statement takes form as a phrase stating what activity could be harmful, such as “do not breathe.” Lastly, the chemical manufacturer’s name and contact information must be clearly visible on the label. This can serve as a bridge to find information on the product and emergency assistance if needed, although 911 should still be contacted if employees suffer the ill effects of exposure.
Safety Data Sheets
Once known as MSDS and now called SDS, safety data sheets provide all necessary information needed to safely handle a chemical. The issue is actually respecting the information and following the guidelines.
In order to serve as a table of contents or a guide to specific information needed, SDS must follow the guidelines of the Global Harmonization Standard. As a result, 16 sections must be published and made available on the SDS. If any part is missing, the SDS is noncompliant, and in all reality, useless.
The 16 sections of an industry-standard SDS are:
- Hazard Identification
- Composition and Ingredients
- First Aid Measures
- Fire Fighting Measures
- Accidental Release Measures
- Handling and Storage
- Exposure Control and Personal Protection
- Physical and Chemical Properties
- Stability and Reactivity
- Toxicological Information
- Ecological Information
- Disposal Considerations
- Transport Information
- Regulatory Information
- Other Information
The relevance of the information provided by an SDS is crucial to safe handling. Each section is just as important as the other. The SDS sheet must contain the product’s name or identifier otherwise an individual has no idea if the information correlates with the substance at hand.
Hazard identification is critical. If one cannot point out the hazards, then initiating protective measures simply is not possible. The composition and ingredients are useful to know as some employees might be allergic to one of the chemicals that make up the substance. This person might not have ever known what made up the cleaner had they not reviewed the SDS.
First-aid measures provide potentially lifesaving information. Where one might think to wash exposure away with water, some other countermeasure might be needed. Fire fighting measures can give emergency crews an advantage in responding to an incident. A specific type of fire extinguishing agent might be needed over another.
The SDS can provide a guideline for cleanup measures and educate employees on how to properly handle and store the chemical. Perhaps it needs to be stored outdoors or out of direct sunlight. Additionally, the personal protection section can identify what personal protective equipment employees must don to protect themselves when working with the product.
Understanding the physical and chemical properties might deter someone from taking one course of action over another. The stability and reactivity segment can prove invaluable in cleanup measures. Dumping water on a spill of certain chemicals can yield a toxic smokescreen rendering anyone in the area incapacitated.
Toxicological and ecological information can help provide a clearer picture of what is in your hands for the day of work. Disposal information can dictate what an employee does with leftover chemicals before departing for the ride home. Dumping it down the drain of a washbasin can prove disastrous.
If the chemical is being prepared for shipment, the transportation and regulatory sections of the SDS offer all necessary information needed to ensure a safe and compliant transport of the product. These precautions must be followed to meet federal and state guidelines. The last section of the SDS contains anything extra that might prove valuable to the end-user. Some chemical manufacturers might take advantage of this section with a surplus of miscellaneous information. Others might refrain.
The sheer simplicity in the design of the SDS makes them brilliantly easy to follow. The architecture resembles a building block scenario. Each block depends on the other. The same can be said regarding the importance and use of the Global Harmonization Standard’s different components.
Chemicals must be properly labeled to ensure safety and direct users to the SDS. It all starts with the label. If the product is not labeled with a name, then that same person cannot take advantage and seize the information on the corresponding SDS.
Failure to utilize the SDS can lead to handling mishaps. Unwanted reactivity scenarios can emerge if the chemical is mixed with another, producing an unstable reaction.
To effectively implement and utilize a Hazard Communication program, the rules and standards must be practiced. Cutting corners cuts off access to vital information that could potentially save a life down the road. Through persistence and positive coaching, paired with a robust training program, employers can properly educate their workforce on the safe handling of chemicals from start to finish. Finishing safely provides one of the biggest victories of all.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 Nick@shalemag.com