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Workplace Safety: Regulating Chemical Exposure

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Workplace Safety: Regulating Chemical Exposure

Chemical hazards and toxic substances pose not only health hazards such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity but also physical dangers that can include flammability, corrosion, and explosibility.  

The Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA) works to ensure that information about chemical and toxic substance hazards in the workplace, and the use of protective measures is distributed to workers. Much of the data can be found on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard page.  

Who has the responsibility for the information about chemical and toxic exposure?  

Chemical manufacturers and importers have the initial responsibility to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. They must then create labels and safety data sheets (formerly called material safety data sheets) to communicate the hazard information to their customers.  

Employers that use these hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers. They also have the responsibility to train their employees to handle the chemicals appropriately. The training for employees must be accompanied by information on the hazards of the chemicals in their work area, and they must instruct them in the measures they can use to protect themselves.  

What can an employer do to control chemical hazards and toxic substances?  

It’s been the long-standing policy of OSHA that employers must use both engineering and work practice controls to reduce their workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals. Respiratory protection is required if engineering or work practice controls are not realistic or until engineering controls are fully implemented. Employers can go to OSHA’s Controlling Exposures page for additional information.  

What are the requirements for respirator use in the workplace?  

As mentioned above, if adequate engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being established, respirators are required. Employers must provide the appropriate respiratory protection without cost to workers, provide the proper training and education on its use, and make sure that workers use it properly.   

Where can employers find information about specific chemicals?  

    • Explore OSHA’s Safety and Health Topic webpage, and you will find links to the considerable amount of related information from OSHA, including a list of Safety and Health Topic pages that address specific chemicals.   
    • The OSHA Occupational Chemical Database is OSHA’s “one-stop-shop” for occupational chemical information. It includes data from various government agencies and organizations. You’ll discover information on chemical identification and physical properties, exposure limits, sampling information, and additional resources.  
    • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards “informs workers, employers, and occupational health professionals about workplace chemicals and their hazards.” The guide contains information on several hundred chemicals that are commonly found in the workplace.  

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