Under the jurisdiction of Section 126 of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, OSHA created workplace safety standards that were designed to safeguard the health of workers. The employees covered by HAZWOPER standards are those who are involved in the handling of hazardous waste, and who take part in emergency response.
The rules of the health and safety standard were set in place to protect employees working in the private sector and with non-profit organizations.
The rules apply equally to businesses that are in the general industry and those involved in construction. These cover employers who have multiple workers under them and who are involved in the following activities in the workplace:
- Operations pertaining to cleanups of sites containing hazardous waste as ordered by the state or the government. Investigations of sites which are ordered by the government and are conducted in the presence of hazardous materials also come in this category.
- Actions taken to correct or eliminate hazardous emergencies that produce hazardous waste.
According to the Right-to-Know law, employees have the right to be informed of the hazardous material present in their workplace. The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) determines these rights and these are applicable to all workers who work with toxic material or near it.
Employers in the private sector have to provide this information to their employees under this law for their safety. In some states workers have more rights than most but it varies from state to state. Employees can get to know these rights in 4 ways:
- Via a list of hazards and hazardous products that are around the workplace
- Via chemical containers that have labels depicting what they contain. The labels must be legible to workers and warn about the dangers of the chemicals
- Via Safety Data Sheets that detail the dangers of the chemicals and how to prevent exposure. This sheet must be available to all workers who work with the chemicals mentioned in it, must not have any blank spaces, and the product name on the card must match the label on the container.
- Via training pertaining to the handling of chemical hazards. This includes the health hazards of the chemical, how to handle them, how to prevent exposure, and the rights of the employees and employers under the law.
A Hazardous Materials Review Committee has also been formed by some unions and their job is to examine the chemicals before they are brought into the workplace. Also known as review committees, these work hand in hand with management to reduce and eliminate chemical accidents in the workplace.
The chemicals used in the workplace must be recorded on a list which should be updated as new chemicals are introduced. This is any product that can cause harm to workers.
According to OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, all chemical containers must be labeled clearly and each container should be labeled. It also must have at least 3 pieces of information, namely:
- The chemical product, either through the name of the chemical or the name of the brand it belongs to.
- The name and address of the manufacturer.
- Warnings regarding specific health and safety issues that the product can cause. For example, it should warn about what would happen if it is absorbed through the skin, what part of the body can get harmed by it, and what organs may be compromised with exposure.
That is a label which is more specific than one that simply says, ‘Avoid skin contact.’ According to OSHA, the label should list the organs that may be damaged by the chemical.
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