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Do You Know the Top 5 HazCom Violations?

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are an essential part of a company’s written HazCom program. Image courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Learn how to prevent (or correct) OSHA violations.

By: Rachel Krubsack, Contributor

Hazard Communication (HazCom) is always found on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) list of top 10 most frequently cited violations, and last year was no exception. But what were the top violations within the standard? What are OSHA inspectors looking for, and how can employers ensure they’re in compliance? I sat down with my former editorial colleague – and former OSHA compliance officer – Holly Pups for her insights on the top five HazCom violations in fiscal year 2022 and how to prevent (or correct) them.

1. Written program – 783 violations

HP: Almost all employers have, or at least should have, a written HazCom program as most have hazardous chemicals on site. As a former OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO), I experienced this was one of the main programs requested in each opening conference. This is often asked for during the opening conference so that it can be verified during the walkaround inspection.

RK: Your written program is basically a record of what your company is doing to comply with the HazCom standard. It must address:

Labels and other forms of warning

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Employee information and training

Chemical inventory/list

Hazards of non-routine tasks

Hazards associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes

Multi-employer workplaces

Laboratories and workplaces where employees only handle hazardous chemicals in sealed containers are not required to have a written HazCom program; however, they do have other responsibilities under the standard at 1910.1200(b)(3) and (b)(4).

2. Information and training – 708 violations

To ensure that HazCom training is effective, verify the trained employees’ knowledge. Image courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

HP: HazCom training is another low-hanging fruit. It’s easy for a CSHO to investigate the effectiveness of training through record verification and employee interviews. I would ask employees to tell me what the labels on a hazardous chemical meant, to talk about the chemical hazards in their work area, and to demonstrate how they access SDSs. The training records do not tell the whole story of how well someone is trained, so it’s important to verify the employee’s knowledge. One employee not being able to answer those questions is not necessarily indicative of a failure to provide effective training, but multiple employees struggling is.

RK: Employees must be informed of the general requirements of the HazCom standard; where hazardous chemicals are located in their work areas (where exposure may occur); and the location and availability of your written HazCom program, chemical inventory and SDSs.

Employees also must be trained on how to detect hazardous chemicals in their work area (such as through the use of continuous monitoring devices); the physical, health, simple asphyxiation, combustible dust, and pyrophoric gas hazards, as well as hazards not otherwise classified (HNOC), of the chemicals in their work area; how to protect themselves from these hazards; and the details of the employer’s written HazCom program, including an explanation of labels and SDSs. If you maintain SDSs electronically, employees must be trained on how to use the system.

Training is required at the time an employee is assigned to work with a hazardous chemical and whenever a new chemical hazard is introduced into the employee’s work area. The requirement for employers to provide updated training is based on the hazard, not the chemical. However, you may choose to train based on individual chemicals.

3. SDSs readily accessible – 285 violations

HP: SDSs help employees make quick decisions in emergency situations, especially in the event of a fire, chemical spill or hazardous chemical exposure. The information contained in the SDS needs to be readily available.

RK: Employers sometimes ask if OSHA has a specific distance requirement within the work area where SDSs must be available. There’s no distance requirement, but they can’t be locked away, such as in a cabinet, and employees shouldn’t have to ask a supervisor for an SDS. In the event of a medical emergency, SDSs must be immediately available to medical personnel.

4. SDSs for each hazardous chemical – 198 violations

HP: CSHOs will often note a few chemicals during their walkaround inspection and ask to see the SDSs associated with them. They may ask an employee to show them how they would access them in an emergency, or they may ask management to provide copies. Be sure that SDSs are kept for each hazardous chemical and each individual manufacturer.

RK: OSHA doesn’t require that you maintain SDSs for non-hazardous chemicals. There also are some exemptions from HazCom, which can be found at 1910.1200(b)(6).

5. Chemical inventory/list – 182 violations

HP: Similar to violation #4, the CSHO notes chemicals during the walkaround inspection and asks to see the chemical inventory. They may also ask for SDSs from this list.

RK: The chemical inventory is part of the written HazCom program requirement at 1910.1200(e). It must include all chemicals present in the workplace, including those that are stored or not in use. The list can be for the entire workplace or for individual work areas. Sometimes we think of chemicals as being only liquids in containers; however, HazCom covers chemicals in all physical forms – liquids, solids, gases, vapors, fumes and mists – whether they’re “contained” or not. The hazardous nature of the chemical and the potential of exposure are the factors that determine whether it’s covered by HazCom.

As to what information must be on the list, OSHA only requires a product identifier (such as the common name) that aligns with the label and SDS. You don’t have to indicate the hazards of the chemicals on your list, though it can be helpful as a training tool to give employees an overview of the hazards in their area.

Key to remember: If you have hazardous chemicals in your workplace, follow the requirements found in 1910.1200 to ensure you’re in compliance. WMHS

Rachel Krubsack is an editor on the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Publishing Team at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. She researches and creates content on a variety of workplace safety topics, including hazard communication, hearing conservation, training requirements, bloodborne pathogens and emergency action plans. She is editor of the ‘Employee Safety Training Advisor’ newsletter and the OSHA Rules for General Industry and Hazard Communication Compliance manuals.

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