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Numerous industries involve hazardous chemicals. For the safety of yourself, employees and the environment at large, disposing of chemical wastes correctly is vital. Regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensure all chemicals are used and disposed of safely and efficiently at your workplace.

OSHA made a series of standards to ensure all employers provide information about various chemicals and follow the appropriate protocols for how best to handle them. The purpose of HAZCOM is to promote a high standard of safety for all employees so everyone will know what actions to take when working with chemicals. Using HAZCOM, you will also be able to react quickly in the event of a leak, spill or other incidents.

A Brief History of HAZCOM

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is also called HAZCOM. The standard was first created in the United States, and when it was signed into law in 1983, it only applied to select workplaces. HAZCOM was expanded in 1987 to be universal across the industries where employees either work directly with hazardous chemicals or could experience exposure.

In 2012, OSHA revised HAZCOM again to comply with changes the United Nations proposed. This time, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) was taken into consideration, and the new HAZCOM was added to the Federal Register.

The Purpose of HAZCOM

The Purpose of HAZCOM

The HAZCOM standard keeps workers informed about any chemicals they handle. HAZCOM intends to provide information such as:

  • The identities of hazardous chemicals: Product information lets workers know how each chemical behaves, how it’s classified and how it’s commonly used.
  • Health and safety risks associated with the chemicals: Labels communicate the risks of using the chemicals with a system of images. Employees should also understand long-term potential exposure risks or the risks of illness from coming in contact with the chemicals.
  • Required protective measures: Workers must have access to the standard protective equipment while on a job, including protective attire.

The Significance of HAZCOM

HAZCOM is important for many reasons, but above all else, it keeps people and the environment safe. Below are some of the most significant reasons that OSHA keeps HAZCOM protocols in place:

  • Widespread coverage for employees: OSHA estimates that the newest HAZCOM standard covers over 43 million employees in the United States and that workers produce hazardous chemicals, handle wastes or accept the possibility of exposure at about five million workplaces.
  • Improved outcomes for safety: According to their data, OSHA predicts that HAZCOM will have an annual prevention of about 521 chemical-related injuries and illnesses of varying degrees and around 43 accidental fatalities.

What Are the HAZCOM Standards?

Companies that work with chemicals must prioritize proper communication about the risks associated. Following HAZCOM communication standards is important to your fellow employees and neighboring businesses, private residences and the local ecosystem.

HAZCOM requirements established by OSHA include the following:

  • Writing a hazard communication program: If you store chemicals or work with them on job sites, a written hazard communication program should be customized based on the specific chemicals at your facility. Data sheets charting the properties of the specific chemicals are required. Your employer should also include warnings for potential effects and response plans for emergencies.
  • Maintaining a chemical inventory: Your employer’s list of hazardous chemicals should include all products that workers are exposed to.
  • Making safety data sheets (SDS) accessible: Employees should have access to the data sheets. They should also be able to ask questions if they need a more in-depth understanding of something related to the chemicals.
  • Ensuring chemical containers are labeled correctly: Labels reflect the chemicals’ potential effects. For example, when a chemical is toxic to the environment, the label shows an image of a tree. Oxidizers and flammables are labeled with a fire symbol.
  • Protecting employees: HAZCOM aims to protect employees from making mistakes on the job.
  • Providing information: OSHA makes information about hazardous chemicals publicly available and expects employers to provide the necessary information to all employees.
  • Providing resources: Employees should have access to safety data sheets to follow HAZCOM correctly. Your employer should deliver all relevant information in the form of handouts and online access to the content.
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE): You should ensure all employees have access to the proper equipment, wear the appropriate attire and follow all protocols correctly.

What Happens if HAZCOM Standards Are Violated?

It is crucial to follow all appropriate HAZCOM standards when working with any potentially hazardous wastes at a job site. A HAZCOM violation could happen unintentionally due to a mistake or poor hazardous waste training.

Penalties for failing to follow HAZCOM include:

  • Injury to employees, your facility or the environment
  • Fines and legal fees
  • Disruption to the job site and workflow
  • Damage to your employer’s reputation and negative press for your workplace
  • More extensive future inspections and scrutiny of the protocols

It’s important to regularly communicate with all employees to ensure HAZCOM is being followed. You can prevent the consequences of staff making a HAZCOM violation by serving as a good role model, strictly adhering to all HAZCOM requirements and working with responsible professionals. Below are some examples of common HAZCOM standard violations:

  • Failure to write a hazard communication program: Your employer must provide the program. It should be finished before workers handle any hazardous wastes, and employees should read and understand the information contained before they begin their roles.
  • Failure to provide hazardous waste training: Without HAZCOM training opportunities, employees gradually forget less frequent aspects of their jobs. Regular training helps them retain important information for future use. New employees are required to undergo training to ensure they are a good fit for their roles.
  • Failure to use the labeling system for hazardous chemicals: This applies even if you only work with a single chemical. If containers were unlabeled, employees could easily forget the risks. When more than one chemical is collected and stored, you want to prevent mix-ups.
  • Failure to use a safety data sheet: Employees rely on having access to all relevant information about the chemicals to do their work.

Get HAZCOM Certified at Hazmat School

Get HAZCOM Certified at Hazmat School

Are you concerned about your compliance with OSHA, DOT and EPA regulations? Hazmat School provides online safety training, where you can complete a program in HAZCOM or other safety standards for an official training certificate. The process for completing a program is convenient and flexible, and each course will make good use of your time.

Unsure which of our courses would be the best for you or your employees? Contact us to learn more about our online training programs and work toward earning a certificate while you learn about HAZCOM in depth.

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