A federal law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (also called OSHA), requires employers to provide safe working environments. When toxic chemicals can be found at work, employers have a number of important obligations to their employee.
OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to create and distribute information about the identities and hazards of the chemicals and toxins found at work. Certain training regarding their safe use and storage is also required. Here are some of the steps that should be taken:
- Employers are required to have a written program to communicate information to their employees about toxins in the workplace and provide employees with access to the written program.
- Employers must list each hazardous chemical or toxin, and specify its location in the workplace.
- The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) must be available for each toxin. The MSDS is provided by the manufacturers of the chemicals and contains information about the composition and toxicity of chemicals, the proper procedures for handling, storing and disposing of the chemicals and first aid procedures following exposure.
- Employers must also provide training to their employees, both at the time of their initial assignment and whenever a new hazardous chemical in brought into the workplace. The training must include information regarding the hazardous nature of the chemicals, protective measures and equipment, emergency measures, how to detect the presence of hazardous chemicals and how to read and understand labels and MSDS’s. The training must be in a language that the employees understand.
Employers should consult with counsel regarding the detailed requirements of the federal law on communicating with and training employees regarding hazardous chemicals, and regarding any applicable state or local laws.