It's obvious that work sites are dangerous places, but the present dangers may not be apparent. The Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard and its associated program are in place to keep you and your employees informed about the chemicals you may work with or around and the necessary associated training. Well-trained employees make better, knowledgeable decisions and work more safely.

Training is an integral part of the HazCom Program. Educated employees are able to keep themselves safe in shifting work environments. According to the standard, the timing of the training is as important as the content. An employee must receive the necessary training before working with a potentially dangerous chemical and whenever a new chemical or physical hazard is introduced at the work site. Therefore, a new hire must be trained before beginning work with or being exposed to chemicals.

In order to properly train employees, it is necessary to compile information about the chemicals present and processes used at the work site. This procedure should begin with a hazard determination, which requires employers to identify and evaluate all chemicals at the job site based on listed and defined hazards.

Hazards are listed by name in one of the following references: OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1000 Z Tables, American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Threshold Limit Values (TLV), the National Toxicology Program, or the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines hazards as physical or health hazards such as combustible liquids, oxidizers, corrosives, reproductive toxins and nontoxins. Materials, such as wood and wood products (except wood dust); regulated hazardous waste; tobacco products; food; drugs; cosmetics; and alcoholic beverages are exempt because they are all regulated by separate government standards.

After identifying all hazardous chemicals, obtain a materials safety data sheet (MSDS). These sheets are available from the chemical supplier, manufacturer or importer and contain information specific to each chemical and its associated hazards. This information will include physical hazards, health hazards, routes of entry, any exposure limits, precautions for safe handling and use (where available), spill cleanup and any required personal protective equipment (PPE).

Other aspects of the standard that affect training include labeling and other forms of warning. Each chemical container is required to have a label that identifies the chemical and includes appropriate hazard warnings and contact information of the manufacturer, importer or other responsible party. The label must be legible and in English; however, labels in a second language may also be added. Labels often include warning information in the form of pictures, symbols or pictograms.

HazCom training should include the following:

• Methods of detection: Employees need to be trained in ways to detect the presence of a hazardous chemical in their work area. Ideally, the presence of all hazardous chemicals should be well-documented, but occasionally mistakes and accidents happen. It’s important for employees to know what’s “normal” in their work environment. Detection methods can include periodic monitoring that is performed by the employer, continuous monitoring devices, and employees that are aware of the visual appearance or odor that hazardous chemicals give off when released.

• The presence of the physical and health hazards of chemicals in the work area: Employers provide this information before employees are pressented with information about these hazards through MSDS, labels and other forms of warning.

• Methods employees use to protect themselves: These methods can include types of PPE, such as gloves, face shields and aprons; safe work practices, such as keeping containers properly labeled; and storing and transferring chemicals correctly. It also is crucial for employees to be trained in the correct emergency procedures in order to minimize a chemical incident, including knowing eyewash station locations, how and when to flush chemical burns with water, and where to find the MSDS.

• The components of the company’s HazCom program: The components should include hazard assessment, labeling, MSDS and training.

• The requirements of the HazCom Standard that apply to the employee’s work task and setting

• The operations in the work area where hazardous chemicals are present or may be produced

• The location and availability of the written HazCom program in case of emergency

This right-to-know standard helps protect personnel at work sites from health issues and physical damage the use of chemicals can cause.


KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and dkelly@intecweb.com. Joe O’Connor edited this article.