No matter what line of work you’re in, there are chemicals all around you, working to make your job easier, more effective, or less dangerous. Refrigerants keep food from spoiling, bleach is a very effective cleaner, and petroleum products are used in everything from lubricants to insulation to heating. These are just a few examples of chemicals most people are likely to be familiar with, but they each demonstrate a crucial point: Though common and practical, the chemicals in use all around us are often caustic, hazardous, or toxic.
Hoping to reduce the frequency of accidents and injuries caused by such chemicals, OSHA developed the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS or HazCom).
OSHA’s HazCom was first adopted in 1983 and had somewhat of a limited scope. In the years following however, the standard has significantly expanded and revised. The updated Hazard Communication Standard seeks to establish a clear set of rules for how chemicals are stored and labeled, and in doing so, reduce accidents and cut costs resulting from lacking or misleading information. To that end, HCS was revised in 2012 to align more closely with the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling (GHS).
GHS aims to standardize the labeling and classification of hazardous chemicals between countries to facilitate safe shipping and use of chemicals across international borders. Prior to the introduction and publication of the 1st Edition of GHS in 2003, each country used its own labeling standard, which made importing and exporting chemicals unnecessarily dangerous, time consuming, and costly.
All U.S. workplaces were required to implement HazCom’s 2012 updates by June 1, 2016. These updates include several important aspects of communicating about hazardous chemicals, as well as instructions on the proper deployment of Safety Data Sheets (SDS) — formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) — that include specific, detailed information about a chemical, its hazards, and relevant first aid measures. These new formatting requirements make it easier for people to determine how to safely work with a chemical, and the results speak for themselves.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a 42% drop in injuries and illness caused by workplace chemical exposure since HazCom was first introduced.
According to OSHA, Hazard Communication was the second-most common “serious violation” in the 2018 fiscal year with a total of 4,552 violations. Serious violations are defined as any violation of OSHA guidelines with significant probability to cause death or serious physical harm which employers either knew of or should have known about.