In the U.S., 25 million workers (one out of every four workers) is exposed to one or more hazardous chemicals on the job. A recent federal law, called the Hazard Communication Standard (or HCS), requires the manufacturers of hazardous chemicals to tell their customers about the hazards; the law further requires the buyers of hazar dous chemicals to tell their workers about the hazards. The purpose of the law is to get information about hazardous chemicals into the hands of the people who work with those chemicals.
Every employer using hazardous materials is supposed to develop a program for telling workers about the hazards. The program is supposed to have two parts: labeling of containers that hold hazardous materials, so workers can know what they're handling; and MSDSs [material safety data sheets]. An MSDS describes a chemical and any known hazards associated with it. An MSDS is supposed to be readily available in the workplace for each hazardous chemical that workers may be exposed to.
A third component of the Hazard Communication Standard is a training program, to help workers understand (and avoid ill effects from) the hazards they encounter on the job.
The federal agency that's supposed to oversee compliance with the HCS law is OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Knowing how to contact OSHA, and knowing what to expect from OSHA (knowing your rights) is essential to getting effective help from OSHA.
We have found a terrific little (75 page) book that describes the HCS law, tells workers their rights, tells them
how to evaluate the HCS program in their shop, tells how OSHA works, and tells what to do if things aren't
right. It's $6.95 from: the Occupational Safety and Health Law Center, 1536 16th Street, NW, Washington,
DC 20036; phone (202) 328-8300. Ask for CHEMICAL HAZARDS; A GUIDE TO THE NEW FEDERAL
HAZARD COMMUNICATION REGULATIONS.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: rtk; right to know; occupational safety and health; osha; hazard communication standard; regulations; training; hazardous chemicals;