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10 Steps for Identifying & Handling Hazardous Materials

Hazardous materials are ubiquitous in a variety of workplaces and industries. From common household chemicals like cleaning products and antifreeze to industry-specific chemicals like muriatic acid, dangerous substances are a part of everyday life and work.

Unfortunately, when employees aren’t properly trained on handling hazardous materials (or these materials aren’t labelled or stored properly), workers can become injured, hospitalized, and can even potentially die from burns, cuts, explosions, and more.

While some workplaces are replacing harmful chemicals with more eco-friendly ones, this isn’t always an option for every industry. So here are 10 steps to help your employees take the initiative and keep safe when interacting with hazardous materials at your workplace.

1: Ensure all hazardous materials are labelled and stored properly

Have you taken inventory of all hazardous materials in your workplace? Identify all potentially hazardous materials and verify that they’re labelled and stored correctly. Keep hazardous materials in dry, cool areas with proper ventilation — and possibly behind locked doors, when applicable. Ensure incompatible chemicals aren’t stored close together, either, as these can cause dangerous chemical reactions and result in fires or explosions.

OSHA requires hazardous materials to be labelled and accompanied by safety data sheets (SDS). Don’t remove or change these container labels. If a label is missing, don’t use the material or chemical — and instruct your employees to notify a supervisor if they come across an unlabeled substance.

2: Keep Safety Data Sheets accessible to employees

Safety Data Sheets are valuable resources for you and your employees when it comes to identifying and handling hazardous materials. They share the properties of each chemical at your workplace, their hazards, and guidelines for managing each chemical or material. Whether you keep them in an electronic database or store paper copies, SDS should be readily available to all employees — not locked up or kept in a password-protected location.

3: Train employees on reading chemical labels & SDS

You can’t expect every team member to be an expert on every chemical you keep in the workplace, which is why chemical labels and SDS are so useful. Chemical labels and SDS tell your employees everything they need to know about a substance: from the types of dangers it poses (whether it’s flammable, causes cancer, is poisonous, etc.) to instructions for how to manage leaks, spills, or accidents involving the material. They state how a material should be stored and used, and how it should be disposed of.

However, labels and SDS aren’t much help if your team doesn’t use them! To ensure everyone has access to accurate information about your hazardous materials, require your team to take a safety training course on reading chemical labels. Not only is a course a great way to verify your team’s knowledge is up to date, but it will help you cover your bases with OSHA, which requires that workers are able to understand chemical labels and SDS.

4: Control hazardous energy using proper lockout/tagout procedures

If your work environment involves potential hazardous energy releases from equipment or machines, a lockout/tagout process is essential to keeping your workers safe from accidents like burns, amputation, fractures, and more.

Here’s a lockout/tagout training booklet to include in your workplace safety program.

5: Ensure employees understand OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard

If you’re a chemical manufacturer, you’ll want your employees to be up-to-date on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. To start, here’s a booklet that summarizes the OSHA Standard and provides important details about chemicals, safety data sheets, handling leaks and spills, PPE, and more.

6: Have PPE and emergency equipment ready and available

Your PPE and emergency equipment will vary depending on your workplace, but here are some examples:

  • Face masks, gloves, and goggles
  • Hand washing stations
  • Eye wash stations

Replace PPE if it becomes damaged or worn, and don’t reuse disposable PPE. Cleaning areas should be clutter-free and regularly inspected.

7: Store hazardous materials in their proper containers

Chemicals and other hazardous materials must stay in their original containers. Don’t mix them with other substances or put them into food containers.

8: Handle hazardous materials with care

Each material or substance has its own requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), handling, use with other substances, and cleanup — so read labels carefully. Only use chemicals for their intended purpose, and take care to follow procedures when transporting hazmat from one location to another.

9: Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures

Accidents happen, so your familiarity with emergency protocol can potentially mean the difference between serious injury and safety. What happens if there’s a chemical fire, spill, or a worker is injured from handling a dangerous substance? When should your team evacuate the premises? Have an emergency plan written and posted for your team to reference.

10: Dispose of hazardous materials properly

Different hazardous materials require different disposal methods. Some chemicals can never be poured down the drain, in the sewer, or even disposed of in the trash. Further, some materials require special sealed containers for disposal, while others may need to be transported to a special facility for disposal.

When it comes to workplace safety, don’t delay. Reinforce the need for vigilance around hazardous materials by checking out our affordable and ready-to-use hazard communication training kits.

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Training Employees on Safe Disinfecting Procedures for 2020

With COVID-19 still on the forefront, many businesses continue to search for the best methods of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting in order to keep their doors open to customers and employees. As more chemical cleaning products are used, it continues to be important to train employees on chemical safety and potential hazards involved with their use.

Disinfectant use is soaring across the country, but many businesses have not provided training for employees to safely use these chemicals. Disinfectants can react with incompatible chemicals and even possibly cause health problems for employees.  It is important to properly train employees to avoid creating additional safety risks. Proper training should meet or exceed current OSHA guidelines for using cleaners, sanitizers, and disinfectants.

Make Sure You and Your Team Know The Difference

Identifying health hazards and implementing training and resources for employees is a big responsibility. As you train current employees or new hires, it is easier to stay compliant by not placing all the burden on one individual. The use of HAZCOM safety training kits, safety data sheets informational posters, and signage can ease the process while training multiple employees with just one kit.

Training kits come in a variety of formats including instant digital download in English or Spanish and via online training module, also in English or Spanish. This is helpful due to ever-changing regulations surrounding maintaining a safe work environment during this time.

Once your employees have the proper training, it is important to keep the information readily available. Your workplace will also need Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for easy access to the information. These should be stored in an SDS binder in a Right-to-Know center.  Right-to-Know centers are used to store all your chemical sheets in one location with easy access to all employees.

Proper Methods for Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting

While cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting sound like they are all synonyms for one another, they are different terms that serve different purposes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines these things as the following: Cleaning simply removes dirt, in general these products are less hazardous. Sanitizers work to remove specific microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Disinfectants then destroy or inactivate microorganisms that cause these infections.

It is important to keep these purposes in mind to properly complete each of these tasks. For example, just cleaning in a hospital wouldn’t do much good to eliminate the spread of diseases which makes disinfectants critical for the control of infectious diseases in hospitals and healthcare settings.

Different environments require different methods for cleaning and disinfecting depending on public health codes. Some codes may require the use of all these methods. For instance, some restaurants will require toilets and food preparation areas be cleaned and sanitized.

While cleaning doesn’t disinfect, this is a step that cannot be skipped. Cleaning should still be utilized by all businesses, especially frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches and tables. To practice proper cleaning, simply clean all surfaces with soap and water. This reduces the number of germs, dirt and contaminations on the surface. This should be done before disinfecting to make it more effective.

While cleaning does eliminate some of the germs and infections, it does not remove enough to be solely used. It must be accompanied by proper disinfection. Disinfectants can be more dangerous, especially if you fail to follow the directions on the label of the particular cleaning supplies you are using. You should also be mindful of protecting your skin and eyes from any potential splashes, ensure adequate ventilation in the area you are using it, and label the products.

Using Different Methods for Different Materials and Areas

Just like the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, there are also big differences in the methods for different materials. This is especially important in businesses like hotels, nursing homes, restaurants, banks and a variety of other institutions where there is heavy foot traffic and a variety of things to clean. Everything from the sheets on beds to cloth napkins on the tables to flooring and devices. Each of these items needs to be cleaned and disinfected according to their specific directions in order for it to be sanitized effectively. This includes;

  • Laundry: Do not shake out any infected linens, towels or sheets. Simply place them in washing machine on the warmest setting. Then disinfect any hampers or baskets they may have come in contact with.
  • Soft surfaces: Rugs, carpets, drapes and other fabric materials can be cleaned with soap and water or laundered according to the manufacturer’s instructions and then be disinfected with an EPA-registered disinfectant.
  • Electronic devices: Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to clean and disinfect any tablet, touch screen, keyboard or any other electronic device. Or simply use 70% alcohol-based wipes or spray.

Before cleaning any of these potentially infected items, be sure to put on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This should include a mask and gloves so that you remain safe from infection and chemical hazards.

Safety Precautions to Take While Cleaning

While cleaning seems like a harmless task, there are many potential health problems that can be caused by cleaning chemicals when they are not properly used. This can include irritation of the skin and eyes, trouble breathing that can trigger asthma attacks and in extreme cases, even severe lung damage and death.

To avoid this, employees should be mindful of the ingredients of the cleaning products, how to properly store the product, ventilating the area the product is being used to clean, and avoiding any splashes or mists so not to come into contact with skin.

One of the best ways to initiate safer cleaning is by choosing safer cleaning chemicals and training on how to use them safely. Hazcom Safety Data Sheets are an important tool for learning which chemicals are the safest. These inform employees on the chemical ingredients, potential health problems, and recommended procedures for spills or exposure.

Right-to-Know centers help facilities comply with federal, state and municipal regulations by addressing the education and training requirements on chemical hazards. The centers allow employers to provide easy access to important SDS chemical sheets to help meet OSHA’s Right-to-Know standards.

Employers must also provide worker training on the health and safety hazards that come with using chemical products. This training should be completed by each employee before they ever interact with any chemicals in order to ensure that they understand all of the standards on the proper handling, use, storage, and proper procedures for using chemicals and the required PPE.

All employees should also have a clear understanding they are expected to use cleaning chemicals only for their intended use, never mix them together and always wash their hands while working with the products.

In addition to the basics of the use of PPE, your employees need to be trained on how to properly put their PPE on and take it off. Safe removal and cleaning of the PPE can be the difference between remaining healthy and catching an infectious disease.

Detailed training is necessary for employers to maintain a healthy work environment. If employees miss one lesson in their training, it can put the health of all your employees and customers at risk. To minimize this risk, National Safety Compliance offers a variety of training kits to simplify the process for you. 

Employers are required to provide training to their employees at a level and in a language they understand. For this reason, National Safety Compliance offers products that are bilingual and written concisely so all of your employees will be able to easily comprehend and understand the training. To best serve you and your business, all of National Safety Compliance’s Hazard Communication Training Kits are available on DVD, USB, via Instant Digital Access, or Online Training Module. COVID-19 Safety Training Posters, Safety Data Sheet Binders and Right-to-Know centers can also be found here in the OSHA Safety Training store.

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Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards

This past September the top 10 most frequently citedFall Protection Safety Training
workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2019 were released by OSHA. It is common knowledge that the rankings for the top 10 generally do not vary much from year to year. This does not mean the list is irrelevant or unimportant.

Each violation that occurred is a reminder of the hazards employees face on a daily basis when they clock in for work. And each violation that occurred most likely resulted in an injury of some type, maybe even death! The list serves as a reminder there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of all U.S. workers. As you read through the list, let it ignite a desire to expect better and to be proactive where safety is concerned as a company, as an employer, and as an employee.

OSHA’s Top 10 most cited workplace safety violations

Fall Protection (1926.501) leads the list again for the
ninth consecutive year with over 6,000 violations. Moving up a spot is
Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) from number five last year to number four. It
switched places with Respiratory Protection (1910.134) which is down to number
five. Here is the complete list:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) with 6,010 violations
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) with 3,671 violations
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451) with 2,813 violations
  4. Lockout / Tagout (1910.147) with 2,606 violations
  5. Respiratory Protection (1910.134) with 2,450 violations
  6. Ladders (1926.1053) with 2,345 violations
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) with 2,093 violations
  8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503) with 1,773 violations
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212) with 1,743 violations
  10. PPE Eye and Face Protection (1926.102) with 1,411 violations

As responsible employers, we must do our best to ensure the safety and health of our employees. Keep these topics in mind as you think through your safety training schedule for 2020. How can you mitigate risks? How can you ensure your employees understand the material?