Volume 12, Number 2, May 1990, pp.4-5

Health & Safety: Hazard Communication--Your 'Right to Know'

by Chris Stavroudis

Are hazardous chemicals being used in your facility? At first, your thought may be: "We don't use any hazardous chemicals. All we have is ammonia, alcohol, bleach, a few cleaning solvents, paint..." As the list grows, suddenly you realize that many of the chemicals used in your facility are potentially harmful to the workers who use them.

In 1983, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgated the Hazard Communication Standard, 29 (CFR) 1910.1200. This regulation is often referred to as the Employee "Right-To-Know" law. All businesses, large and small, in all industries were required to be in compliance with this law by May of 1988.

Over 30 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to chemical hazards on a regular basis each year. The objective of the regulation is to help reduce chemical related illnesses and injuries in the workplace by informing employers and employees about chemical hazards and how to protect against them.

The "Right-To-Know" law requires employers to inform and train employees about the chemicals they use or to which they may be exposed. The scope of the law concerns all chemicals in the workplace that could be considered a hazard.

The law is composed of four distinct provisions.

First, each employer must develop a Written Hazard Communication Program. The written Program outlines, explains, and documents the policies and procedures to which the employer will adhere in completing and maintaining the ongoing compliance process. The written Program must include: the names of those individuals responsible for administering the Program; container labeling requirements; location of Material Safety Data Sheets and emergency information; employee training, and procedures for informing outside contractors about hazards present in the workplace.

The second important area involves making a List of All Hazardous Chemicals used in your facility and then obtaining a MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET (MSDS) for each chemical on your list. Chemical manufacturers are required by law to evaluate each chemical they produce to determine if it is hazardous. If so, the manufacturer must supply the buyer with an MSDS that describes all the findings of the evaluation. The MSDS explains the properties of the chemical and what you should know to protect your safety. Your distributor or supplier should provide you with an MSDS whenever you purchase a hazardous material.

The third area addresses Container Labels. This provision requires that all containers in your facility be properly labeled with specific safety information. Container labels at a minimum must include the identity of the material, appropriate hazard warnings, and the name of the manufacturer or responsible party. Containers into which a material is transferred must also be labeled.

The fourth provision requires all employers to provide Training and Information to employees and contractors that will help them identify and protect themselves from the effect of hazardous material exposure. The training must include information about: the employee's rights pursuant to the "Right-To-Know" law; how to identify a hazardous material in the workplace; how to use the information found on labels and MSDS; the proper use and care of protective equipment; and emergency spill, evacuation and first aid procedures.

New employees must be trained when hired, before they report to the work area. Existing employees must be retrained when they move to a new area where chemicals are being used with which they are not familiar, and whenever a new chemical is introduced. Each employee must also understand where the written Hazard Communication Program, list of hazardous materials, and Material Safety Data Sheets are stored and how to use this information.

Impact to Museums and Conservators

If your organization is using chemicals that are considered TOXIC, CORROSIVE, FLAMMABLE, REACTIVE or POISON, you are required to comply with the provisions outlined above. The obvious materials conservators may be using include: paint, dry pigments, thinners, cleaning solvents, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), cadmium, lead, adhesives, formaldehyde and cement to name only a few.

Employers in each state must comply with all provisions of the federal law and certain states have their own state plans based upon the federal law. You must comply with your state plan, if one exists.

Non compliance with this law can bring fines between $1000 and $10,000 per citation for each day it remains uncorrected. There is also concern over the civil and criminal liability that faces those who are responsible for the safety of their employees. The three most common reasons for inspections that may result in a citation include: calls from concerned employees, accident investigations, and random selection, not necessarily in that order.

Getting Help

If your organization is not in compliance with the Hazard Communication/Employee "Right-To-Know" law, you need to take action. Contact the consultation division of your local OSHA office. OSHA is an excellent source of information and can provide you with a copy of the regulation and suggestions for coming into compliance by developing your own Program.

If you would rather not go through the painstaking process of developing your own Program, there are companies that specialize in bringing your museum or lab into compliance.

Doris E. Rager, Vice President
Rager Group
8190 E. Mira Mesa Blvd., Ste 246
San Diego, CA 92126

The Rager Group, Inc., (619) 693-7535, offers a comprehensive turn-key Program that allows businesses to comply with all the requirements at an economical cost. This Program includes step-by-step instructions for complete Program implementation, documentation and training for only $189.00.

COMCO Safety Services, (213) 420-9195, provides professional full service consulting in all areas of Safety and Health Management, and recently assisted the L.A. Museum of Natural History and the Nevada Department of Museums and History in complying with the "Right to Know" law.

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