An important part of complying with OSHA's workplace safety rules is making sure that you deal appropriately with hazardous materials. However, OSHA isn't concerned merely with actual safety precautions. It also places a great deal of focus on paperwork and, in particular, with your following the regulations that require recordkeeping and communication about potential hazards.
If your business involves hazardous materials, you have to maintain records and communicate information to two entities employees and community emergency organizations. In general, all businesses are subject to rules regarding:
- Access to medical and exposure records. You must grant employees access to any of their individual medical records that you maintain and to records you maintain on the employees' exposure to toxic substances.
- Notice of hazards. Information about chemical hazards present in the workplace must be noted on the container labels, communicated to specific parties, and maintained in certain records.
Providing information. Your obligation to provide information to employees and others varies, depending on the nature of your business. Basically, you must:
- measure and communicate the possible hazards of chemicals you manufacture or import, if any
- communicate dangers to any purchaser, if you distribute chemicals
- ensure that warning labels are in place prior to bringing chemicals into the workplace
- never remove or deface warning labels
- obtain MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets) and display them prominently in the workplace
- make sure employees receive information and training and know what to do in the event of a spill or leak
Chemical defined. The term "chemical" is defined broadly as "any element, chemical compound, or mixture of the two." These regulations apply to every known chemical in the workplace, plus chemicals used in an emergency.
Exceptions. Regulations do not apply to:
- tobacco and tobacco products
- wood and wood products
- beverages packaged for retail sale
- consumer products used in the workplace
- food, drugs, or cosmetics brought in by employees for their own use
- drugs in final form dispensed as medicine in a health care facility
- articles created with chemicals that are harmless in their final form
State law. When states regulate this process, generally the focus is on increasing access of local safety officials and health care providers to the material that the company must maintain on hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
Enforcement. Enforcement of the employer requirements for employee communication is achieved by requiring comprehensive hazard communication programs, including:
- labeling of containers
- written communications programs
- material safety data sheets (MSDS).
- communicating with the community about serious hazards