The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is based on a simple
concept - that employees have both a need and a right to know
the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed
to when working. They also need to know what protective measures
are available to prevent adverse effects from occurring. The
HCS is designed to provide employees with the information
Knowledge acquired under the
HCS will help employers provide a safer workplace for their
employees. When employers have information about the chemicals
being used, they can take steps to reduce exposures, substitute
less hazardous materials, and establish proper work practices.
These efforts will help prevent the occurrence of work-related
illnesses and injuries caused by chemicals.
The HCS addresses the issues
of evaluating and communicating hazards to workers. Evaluation
of chemical hazards involves a number of technical concepts,
and is a process that requires the professional judgment of
experienced experts. That is why the HCS is designed so that
employers who simply use chemicals, rather than produce or
import them, are not required to evaluate the hazards of those
chemicals. Hazard determination is the responsibility of the
producers and importers of the materials. Producers and importers
of chemicals are then required to provide the hazard information
to employers that purchase their products.
Employers that don't produce
or import chemicals need only focus on those parts of the
rule that deal with establishing a workplace program and communicating
information to their workers. This publication is a general
guide for such employers to help them determine what's required
under the rule. It does not supplant or substitute for the
regulatory provisions, but rather provides a simplified outline
of the steps an average employer would follow to meet those
Familiar with the Rule
OSHA has provided a simple summary of the HCS in a pamphlet
entitled "Chemical Hazard Communication," OSHA Publication
Number 3084. (Note: As of May, 2012, this publication doesn't
address the Global Harmonized System adopted by OSHA in February
of 2012). Some employers prefer to begin to become familiar
with the rule's requirements by reading this pamphlet. Additional
OSHA publications that may be helpful include Hazard Communication
Guidelines for Compliance (OSHA 3111) and Hazard Communication
Guidance for Combustible Dusts (OSHA 3371-08). these publications
are available as pdf files (downloads) at www.osha.gov.
The standard is long, and some
parts of it are technical, but the basic concepts are simple.
In fact, the requirements reflect what many employers have
been doing for years. You may find that you are already largely
in compliance with many of the provisions, and will simply
have to modify your existing programs somewhat. If you are
operating in an OSHA-approved State Plan State, you must comply
with the State's requirements, which may be different than
those of the Federal rule. Many of the State Plan States had
hazard communication or "right-to-know" laws prior to the
promulgation of the Federal rule. Employers in State Plan
States should contact their State
OSHA offices for more information regarding applicable
The HCS requires information
to be prepared and transmitted regarding all hazardous chemicals.
The HCS covers both physical hazards (such as flammability),
and health hazards (such as irritation, lung damage, and cancer).
Most chemicals used in the workplace have some hazard potential,
and thus will be covered by the rule.
One difference between this rule
and many others adopted by OSHA is that this one is performance-oriented.
That means that you have the flexibility to adapt the rule
to the needs of your workplace, rather than having to follow
specific, rigid requirements. It also means that you have
to exercise more judgment to implement an appropriate and
The standard's design is simple.
Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards
of the chemicals they produce or import. Using that information,
they must then prepare labels for containers, and more detailed
technical bulletins called safety data sheets (SDSs).
Chemical manufacturers, importers,
and distributors of hazardous chemicals are all required to
provide the appropriate labels and safety data sheets to the
employers to whom they ship the chemicals. The information
is to be provided automatically. Every container of hazardous
chemicals you receive must be labeled, tagged, or marked with
the required information. Your suppliers must also send you
a properly completed safety data sheet (SDS) at the time of
the first shipment of the chemical, and with the next shipment
after the SDS is updated with new and significant information
about the hazards.
You can rely on the information
received from your suppliers. You have no independent duty
to analyze the chemical or evaluate the hazards of it.
Employers that "use" hazardous
chemicals must have a program to ensure the information is
provided to exposed employees. "Use" means to package, handle,
react, or transfer. This is an intentionally broad scope,
and includes any situation where a chemical is present in
such a way that employees may be exposed under normal conditions
of use or in a foreseeable emergency.
The requirements of the rule
that deal specifically with the hazard communication program
are found in the standard in paragraphs (e), written hazard
communication programs; (f) labels and other forms of warning;
(g) safety data sheets; and (h) employee information and training.
The requirements of these paragraphs should be the focus of
your attention. Concentrate on becoming familiar with them,
using paragraphs (b) scope and application, and (c) definitions,
as references when needed to help explain the provisions.
There are two types of work operations
where the coverage of the rule is limited. These are laboratories
and operations where chemicals are only handled in sealed
containers (e.g., a warehouse). The limited provisions for
these workplaces can be found in paragraph (b), scope and
application. Basically, employers having these types of work
operations need only keep labels on containers as they are
received; maintain material safety data sheets that are received,
and give employees access to them; and provide information
and training for employees. Employers do not have to have
written hazard communication programs and lists of chemicals
for these types of operations.
The limited coverage of laboratories
and sealed container operations addresses the obligation of
an employer to the workers in the operations involved, and
does not affect the employer's duties as a distributor of
chemicals. For example, a distributor may have warehouse operations
where employees would be protected under the limited sealed
container provisions. In this situation, requirements for
obtaining and maintaining SDSs are limited to providing access
to those received with containers while the substance is in
the workplace, and requesting SDSs when employees request
access for those not received with the containers. However,
as a distributor of hazardous chemicals, that employer will
still have responsibilities for providing SDSs to downstream
customers at the time of the first shipment and when the SDS
is updated. Therefore, although they may not be required to
the employees in the work operation, the distributor may,
nevertheless, have to have SDSs to satisfy other requirements
of the rule.
Hazard communication is going to be a continuing program in
your facility. Compliance with the HCS is not a "one
shot deal." In order to have a successful program,
it will be necessary to assign responsibility for both the
initial and ongoing activities that have to be undertaken
to comply with the rule. In some cases, these activities may
already be part of current job assignments. For example, site
supervisors are frequently responsible for on the job training
sessions. Early identification of the responsible employees,
and involvement of them in the development of your plan of
action, will result in a more effective program design. Evaluation
of the effectiveness of your program will also be enhanced
by involvement of affected employees.
For any safety and health program,
success depends on commitment at every level of the organization.
This is particularly true for hazard communication, where
success requires a change in behavior. This will only occur
if employers understand the program, and are committed to
its success, and if employees are motivated by the people
presenting the information to them.
Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace
standard requires a list of hazardous chemicals in the workplace
as part of the written hazard communication standard. The
list will eventually serve as an inventory of everything for
which a SDS must be maintained. At this point, however, preparing
the list will help you complete the rest of the program since
it will give you some idea of the scope of the program required
for compliance in your facility.
The best way to prepare a comprehensive
list is to survey the workplace. Purchasing records may also
help, and certainly employers should establish procedures
to ensure that in the future, purchasing procedures result
in SDSs being received before a material is used in the workplace.
The broadest possible perspective
should be taken when doing the survey. Sometimes people think
of "chemicals" as being only liquids in containers. The HCS
covers chemicals in all physical forms -- liquids, solids,
gases, vapors, fumes, and mists -- whether they are "contained"
or not. The hazardous nature of the chemical and the potential
for overexposure are the factors which determine whether a
chemical is covered. If it's not hazardous, it's not covered.
If there is no potential for exposure (e.g., the chemical
is inextricably bound and cannot be released), the rule does
not cover the chemical.
around. Identify chemicals in containers, including pipes,
but also think about chemicals generated in the work operations.
For example, welding fumes, dusts, and exhaust fumes are all
sources of chemical exposures. Read labels provided by the
suppliers for hazard information. Make a list of all chemicals
in the workplace that are potentially hazardous. For your
own information and planning, you may also want to note on
the list the location(s) of the products in the workplace,
and an indication of the hazards found on the label. This
will help you as you prepare the rest of your program.
Paragraph (b), scope and application,
includes exemptions for various chemicals or workplace situations.
After compiling the complete list of chemicals, you should
review paragraph (b) to determine if any of the items can
be eliminated from the list because they are exempted materials.
For example, food, drugs, and cosmetics brought into the workplace
for employee consumption are exempt; also rubbing alcohol
in the first aid kit would not be covered.
Once you have compiled as complete
a list as possible of the potentially hazardous chemicals
in the workplace, the next step is to determine if you have
received safety data sheets for all of them. Check your files
against the inventory you have just compiled. If any are missing,
contact your supplier and request one. It is a good idea to
document these requests, either by copy of a letter or a note
regarding telephone conversations. If you have SDSs for chemicals
that are not on your list, figure out why. Maybe you don't
use the chemicals anymore. Or maybe you missed it in your
survey. Some suppliers do provide SDSs for products that are
not hazardous. These do not have to be maintained by you.
You should not allow employees
to use any chemicals for which you have not received an SDS.
The SDS provides information you need to ensure proper protective
measures are implemented prior to exposure.
and Implementing a Hazard Communication Program
workplaces where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals
must have a written plan which describes how the standard
will be implemented in that facility. Preparation of a plan
is not just a paper exercise -- all elements must be implemented
in the workplace in order to be in compliance with the rule.
See paragraph (e) of the standard for specific requirements
regarding written hazard communication programs. The only
work operations which do not have to comply with the written
plan requirements are laboratories and work operations where
employees only handle chemicals in sealed containers. See
paragraph (b), scope and application, for the specific requirements
for these two types of workplaces.
The plan does not have to be
lengthy or complicated. It is intended to be a blueprint for
implementation of your program -- an assurance that all aspects
of the requirements have been addressed.
This kit provides a "generic"
example of a written program. Many trade associations and
other professional groups have provided sample programs and
other assistance materials to affected employers. These have
been very helpful to many employers since they tend to be
tailored to the particular industry involved. You may wish
to investigate whether your industry trade groups have developed
Although such general guidance
may be helpful, you must remember that the written program
has to reflect what you are doing in your workplace. Therefore,
if you use a generic program, it must be adapted to address
the facility it covers. For example, the written plan must
list the chemicals present at the site, indicate who is responsible
for the various aspects of the program in your facility, and
indicate where written materials will be made available to
If OSHA inspects your workplace
for compliance with the HCS, the OSHA compliance officer will
ask to see your written plan at the outset of the inspection.
In general, the following items will be considered in evaluating
The written program must describe
how the requirements for labels and others forms of warning,
safety data sheets, and employee information and training,
are going to be met in your facility. The following discussion
provides the type of information compliance officers will
be looking for to decide whether these elements of the hazard
communication program have been properly addressed.
and Other Forms of Warning
In-plant containers of hazardous
chemicals must be labeled, tagged or marked with a product
identifier, signal word, hazard statement, pictogram, precautionary
statements, and the name, address, and telephone number of
the chemical manufacturer, importer or other responsible party.
Employers purchasing chemicals can rely on the labels provided
by their suppliers. If the material is subsequently transferred
by the employer from a labeled container to another container,
the employer will have to label that container unless it is
subject to the portable container exemption. See paragraph
(f) for specific labeling requirements.
With these requirements in mind,
the compliance officer will be looking for the following types
of information to ensure that labeling will be properly implemented
in your facility:
- Designation of person(s) responsible
for ensuring labeling of in-plant containers;
- Designation of person(s) responsible
for ensuring labeling of any shipped containers;
- Description of labeling system(s)
- Description of written alternatives
to labeling of in-plant containers (if used); and,
- Procedures to review and update
label information when necessary.
Employers that are purchasing
and using hazardous chemicals -- rather than producing or
distributing them -- will primarily be concerned with ensuring
that every purchased container is labeled. If materials are
transferred into other containers, the employer must ensure
that these are labeled as well, unless they fall under the
portable container exemption (paragraph (f)(8)). In terms
of labeling systems, you can simply choose to use the labels
provided by your suppliers on the containers. An alternative
is a label that includes the product identifier and words,
pictures, symbols, or combination thereof, which provide at
least general information regarding the hazards of the chemicals,
and which, with other information immediately available to
the employee under the hazard communication program, will
provide employees with the specific information regarding
the physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical.
Data Sheets (SDS)
Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to obtain
or develop a safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical
they produce or import. Distributors are responsible for ensuring
that their customers are provided a copy of these SDSs. Employers
must have an SDS for each hazardous chemical which they use.
Employers may rely on the information received from their
suppliers. The specific requirements for safety data sheets
are in paragraph (g) of the standard.
As part of the Global Harmonized
System, OSHA specifies that the SDS is to be in English (employer
may maintain copies in other languages as well) and include
at least the specific 16 section numbers and headings, with
association information under each heading, in a specified
The role of SDSs under the rule
is to provide detailed information on each hazardous chemical,
including its potential hazardous effects, its physical and
chemical characteristics, and recommendations for appropriate
protective measures. This information should be useful to
you as the employer responsible for designing protective programs,
as well as to the workers. If you are not familiar with safety
data sheets and with chemical terminology, you may need to
learn to use them yourself. A glossary
of SDS terms is included in this kit. Generally speaking,
most employers using hazardous chemicals will primarily be
concerned with SDS information regarding hazardous effects
and recommended protective measures. Focus on the sections
of the SDS that are applicable to your situation.
SDSs must be readily accessible
to employees when they are in their work areas during their
work shifts. This may be accomplished in many different ways.
You must decide what is appropriate for your particular workplace.
Some employers keep the SDSs in a binder in a central location
(e.g., in the pick-up truck on a construction site). Others,
particularly in workplaces with large numbers of chemicals,
computerize the information and provide access through terminals.
As long as employees can get the information when they need
it, any approach may be used. The employees must have access
to the SDSs themselves -- simply having a system where the
information can be read to them over the phone is only permitted
under the mobile worksite provision, paragraph (g)(9), when
employees must travel between workplaces during the shift.
In this situation, they have access to the SDSs prior to leaving
the primary worksite, and when they return, so the telephone
systems is simply an emergency arrangement.
In order to ensure that you have
a current SDS for each chemical in the plant as required,
and that employee access is provided, the compliance officers
will be looking for the following types of information in
your written program.
- Designation of person(s) responsible
for obtaining and maintaining the SDSs;
- How such sheets are to be
maintained in the workplace (e.g., in notebooks in the work
areas(s) or in a computer with terminal access), and how
employees can obtain access to them when they are in their
work area during the work shift;
- Procedures to follow when
the SDS is not received at the time of the first shipment;
- For producers, procedures
to update the SDS when new and significant health information
is found; and,
- Description of alternatives
to actual data sheets in the workplace, if used.
For employers using hazardous
chemicals, the most important aspect of the written program
in terms of SDSs is to ensure that someone is responsible
for obtaining and maintaining the SDSs for every hazardous
chemical in the workplace. The list of hazardous chemicals
required to be maintained as part of the written program will
serve as an inventory. As new chemicals are purchased, the
list should be updated. Many companies have found it convenient
to include on their purchase orders the name and address of
the person designated in their company to receive SDSs.
Information and Training
Each employee who may be "exposed" to hazardous chemicals
when working must be provided information and be trained prior
to initial assignment to work with a hazardous chemical, and
whenever the hazard changes. "Exposure" or "exposed" under
the rule means that "an employee is subjected in the course
of employment to a chemical that is a physical or health hazard,
and includes potential (e.g. accidental or possible) exposure.
See paragraph (h) of the standard for specific requirements.
Information and training may be done either by individual
chemical, or by categories of hazards (such as flammability
or carcinogenicity). If there are only a few chemicals in
the workplace, then you may want to discuss each one individually.
Where there are a large number of chemicals, or the chemicals
change frequently, you will probably want to train generally
based on the hazard categories (e.g., flammable liquids, corrosive
materials, carcinogens). Employees will have access to the
substance-specific information on the labels and SDSs.
Information and training are
a critical part of the hazard communication program. Information
regarding hazards and protective measures is provided to workers
through written labels and safety data sheets. However, through
effective information and training, workers will learn to
read and understand such information, determine how it can
be obtained and used in their own workplaces, and understand
the risks of exposure to the chemicals in their workplaces
as well as the ways to protect themselves.
A properly conducted training
program will ensure comprehension and understanding. It is
not sufficient to either just read material to the workers,
or simply hand them material to read. You want to create a
climate where workers feel free to ask questions. This will
help you to ensure that the information is understood. You
must always remember that the underlying purpose of the HCS
is to reduce the incidence of chemical source illnesses and
injuries. This will be accomplished by modifying behavior
through the provision of hazard information and information
about protective measures. If your program works, you and
your workers will better understand the chemical hazards within
the workplace. The procedures you establish regarding, for
example, purchasing, storage, and handling of these chemicals
will improve, and thereby reduce the risks posed to employees
exposed to the chemical hazards involved. Furthermore, your
worker's comprehension will also be increased, and proper
work practices will be followed in your workplace.
If you are going to do the training
yourself, you will have to understand the material and be
prepared to motivate the workers to learn. This is not always
an easy task, but the benefits are worth the effort. More
information regarding appropriate training can be found in
Section of this kit, which
contains voluntary training guidelines prepared by OSHA's
In reviewing your written program
with regard to information and training, the following items
need to be considered.
- Designation of person(s) responsible
for conducting training;
- Format of the program to be
used (audiovisuals, classroom instruction, etc.);
- Elements of the training program
(should be consistent with the elements in paragraph (h)
of the HCS); and,
- Procedure to train new employees
at the time of their initial assignment to work with a hazardous
chemical, and to train employees when a new hazard is introduced
into the workplace.
The written program should provide
enough details about the employer's plans in this area to
assess whether or not a good faith effort is being made to
train employees. OSHA does not expect that every worker will
be able to recite all of the information about each chemical
in the workplace. In general, the most important aspects of
training under the HCS are to ensure that employees are aware
that they are exposed to hazardous chemicals, that they know
how to read and use labels and safety data sheets, and that,
as a consequence of learning this information, they are following
the appropriate protective measures established by the employer.
OSHA compliance officers will be talking to employees to determine
if they have received training, if they know they are exposed
to hazardous chemicals, and if they know where to obtain substance-specific
information on labels and SDSs.
The rule does not require employers
to maintain records of employee training, but many employers
choose to do so. This may help you monitor your own program
to ensure that all employees are appropriately trained. If
you already have a training program, you may simply have to
supplement it with whatever additional information is required
under the HCS. For example, construction employers that are
already in compliance with the construction training standard
(29 CFR 1926.21) will have little extra training to do.
An employer can provide employee
information and training through whatever means found appropriate
and protective. Although there would always have to be some
training on-site (such as informing employees of the location
and availability of the written program and SDSs), employee
training may be satisfied in part by general training about
the requirements of the HCS and about chemical hazards on
the job which is provided by, for example, trade associations,
unions, colleges, and professional schools. In addition, the
previous training, education and experience of a worker may
relieve the employer of some of the burdens of informing and
training that worker. Regardless of the method relied upon,
however, the employer is always ultimately responsible for
ensuring that employees are adequately trained. If the compliance
officer finds that the training is deficient, the employer
will be cited for the deficiency, regardless of who actually
provided the training on behalf of the employer.
In addition to these specific
items, compliance officers will also be asking the following
questions in assessing the adequacy of the program:
- Does a list of the hazardous
chemicals exist in each work area or at a central location?
- Are methods the employer will
use to inform employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks
- Are employees informed of
the hazards associated with chemicals contained in unlabeled
pipes in their work areas?
- On multi-employer worksites,
has the employer provided other employers with information
about labeling systems and precautionary measures where
the other employers have employees exposed to the initial
- Is the written program made
available to employees and their designated representatives?
If your program adequately addresses
the means of communicating information to employees in your
workplace, and provides answers to the basic questions outlined
above, it will be found to be in compliance with the rule.