Six Steps to an Effective HazCom Program

Safety Inspection Hazard communication standardKeeping your employees and workplace safe from hazardous chemicals is the cornerstone of successful hazard communication. It’s not too difficult and it doesn’t need to be costly to implement an effective HazCom program, but it does require forethought and planning. These six steps provide a solid basis on which you can plan your own HazCom program implementation.

1. Learn OSHA’s standards

The first step to preparing an effective HazCom program is understanding and complying with OSHA’s standards. While a widespread understanding of the standards among workers and management is encouraged, one employee should be tasked with coordinating implementation. Having one person ultimately responsible for these standards will help ensure implementation continues apace, and they will be in a position to task other staff members with secondary activities such as training.

2. Prepare a written HazCom plan

There are two purposes to preparing a written HazCom plan. First, it helps ensure that the plan is implemented in a systematic and thoughtful fashion. Second, it allows employers to list all hazardous chemicals known to be present in the workplace; not only is this required by OSHA, but it also dramatically simplifies the remaining aspects of implementation.

3. Ensure chemical containers have been labeled

As the name suggests, this step involves labeling all chemicals in the workplace. For the most part, every workplace needs to use labels that are GHS-compliant. You may use the existing labels sent to you by the chemicals’ manufacturer or distributor, or you can use a third-party labeling system such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) to identify alternative hazards alongside those included in the GHS labeling standard. Regardless of which labeling standard you choose, the goal should be providing employees with all of the information they’ll need to make smart, safe choices when working with and near a chemical.

4. Maintain and update SDS’s as necessary

Safety Data Sheets are a one-stop shop for everything you’d ever need to know about a chemical, which is why it’s crucial that they be kept up to date and that they’re readily available for employees at all times. This means that if you use electronic means to distribute Safety Data Sheets, there must also be a physical, hard copy of each sheet available as well in case of computer malfunction.

As there’s no single solution on how best to store Safety Data Sheets, each organization will need to devise a plan to suit their facilities and unique needs.

5. Educate Employees

Informed employees make responsible decisions, which is why this step may be the most important of all. Employees should be rigorously trained on all of the chemicals they may come into contact with both before given an assignment and whenever new chemicals or hazards are introduced. A properly trained employee will be aware of OSHA’s HazCom standards, they will know of the hazards posed by each of the chemicals in their work area, and they’ll have no trouble finding and utilizing appropriate protective gear.

6. Evaluate and tweak your program as necessary

Once a HazCom program has been established, it’s helpful to periodically evaluate and revise the program as necessary to ensure it remains effective and that the program is meeting its goals. OSHA’s HazCom guidelines don’t strictly require
this kind of proactive program maintenance, but an ongoing effort to tweak the program as necessary is the best way to ensure your HazCom program remains potent and applicable to your organization’s needs.

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