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OSHA requirements for chemical labeling

Osha Chemical Labels
Abandoned, unlabeled chemical drums are particular problems in parts of West Africa, where drums of unidentified pesticides sometimes sit for years, seeping into the water supply. In the US, we have OSHA to thank for our labeling procedures – but just because they're the law doesn't mean the law never gets broken.

Far from fitting the stereotype of a bloated bureaucracy, OSHA has fewer than 2,500 employees as of 2012. When you consider the magnitude of the job they’re tasked with, their numbers are even more stunning - after all, keeping all of the rest of working Americans safe from preventable workplace accidents is no small feat. Founded in the 1970s, OSHA was one of a handful of programs outlined by President Lyndon Baynes Johnson in the 1960s in order to directly compete with the Soviet Union’s standard of living –and, like the Environmental Protection Agency, was founded by President Richard Nixon.

In its chemical labeling scheme, OSHA seeks to ensure that all workers know when they’re handling a chemical or substance that can cause harm. While this goal may sound modest, it can be quite a challenge. Dangerous products have to be labeled for transport, but employers are responsible for making sure that these products are labeled as soon as they reach their workers; labels are often damaged in transit, so companies can never fully rely on the sender to label hazardous materials appropriately. In their introduction to Hazard Communications, OSHA states that “about 32 million workers work with and are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards. There are an estimated 650,000 existing chemical products, and hundreds of new ones being introduced annually. This poses a serious problem for exposed workers and their employers.” So, despite the agency’s small size, it’s clear that they mean business when it comes to so many employees being exposed to such a myriad of potential hazardous chemicals, when clear labeling and instruction can go such a long way towards minimizing that risk.

According to OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard 29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1):

• The identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings must be shown on the label

• The hazard warning must provide users with an immediate understanding of the primary health and/or physical hazard(s) of the hazardous chemical through the use of words, pictures, symbols, or any combination of these elements.

• The name and address of the manufacturer, importer or other responsible party must be included on the label.

• The hazard label message must be legible, permanently displayed and written in English.

• Even portable secondary containers like jars and beakers have to fulfill this standard if any of the following conditions is true:

o The material is not used within the work shift of the individual who makes the transfer.

o The worker who made the transfer leaves the work area.

o The container is moved to another work area and is no longer in the possession of the worker who filled the container.

o Labels on portable containers are not required if the worker who made the transfer uses all of the contents during the work shift.

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