Safetip #139: Proactively Communicate About Dangerous Chemicals
Workers Must Be Aware of Key Information
Companies in the chemical industry work with dangerous chemicals on a daily basis, whether they manufacture them or formulate with them. But other industries are also exposed to dangerous chemicals because they use them in the workplace, industries such as oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, etc.
Companies that use or produce chemicals in the workplace have a legal responsibility to inform workers about hazards, risks, and preventive and protective measures. But organizations should go beyond the minimum regulatory requirements in various jurisdictions and proactively communicate about dangerous chemicals.
A publication by EU OSHA, E-fact 75: Dangerous substances and successful workplace communication, highlights the following key items that workers should be aware of:
- Risk assessments at their workplace.
- Hazards they are being exposed to.
- How they may be affected by the hazards.
- What they have to do to keep themselves and others safe (i.e. how the risks are to be controlled).
- How to check and spot when things are wrong and to whom they should report problems.
- The results of any exposure monitoring or health surveillance.
- Preventive and protective measures to be taken in case of maintenance work.
- First aid and emergency procedures.
Checklist for Good Communication
Organizations should establish and maintain a list of all dangerous chemicals used or produced in the workplace. The EU OSHA E-fact includes this checklist that can be used to ensure effective communication between employers and their workers regarding dangerous chemicals:
- Is there a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) readily available for each hazardous chemical used? Is any other guidance on worker protection available?
- Has the information from the SDS and any other guidance been translated into workplace instructions that give practical information on how to handle and use chemicals in the daily routine?
- Are you aware of the flow of chemicals through the company? How much is being purchased and by whom? How much is being stored? Where do the chemicals go? Who decides on what is purchased and who is involved?
- Is each container for a hazardous chemical (e.g. vats, bottles, storage tanks) labelled with the identity of the product and appropriate hazard warnings relating to both physical hazards (e.g. explosion risk) and health hazards?
- Has a risk assessment been carried out and its findings communicated?
- Are workers asked regularly about potential health and safety problems?
- Have all relevant information, instructions and training on the dangerous chemicals in the workplace been provided to workers, including the precautions they should take to protect themselves and other employees?
- Do all workers know:
- How to make full and proper use of all the control measures provided?
- To whom they should report problems and defects with any control measures?
- How to carry out the foreseen maintenance and functionality checks, especially of local exhaust ventilation and other protective devices?
- What they should do in the event of an accident, incident or emergency involving hazardous chemicals?
- How to handle hazardous waste?
- Are workers involved in regular updates of risk assessments and regularly retrained?
Finally, consider the use of chemical management software for proactive communication about dangerous chemicals, and to make SDSs, safety information and other documents available to all workers across the organization in local languages.
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