OSHA's HazCom Standard Does Not Require Chemical-Specific Training: The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Strikes Down OSHA's Interpretation of the Training Component of the HazCom Standard

Article excerpt

You are the new safety manager of a chemical plant, which has about 700 hazardous chemicals. You examine the plant training records, and see that employees spent an inordinate amount of time being trained under OSHA's hazard communication standard. In fact, every employee is told the name of every hazardous chemical in his work area and given other chemical-specific information.

This puzzles you because you know that Paragraph (h)(1) of OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. [section] 1910.1200, specifically states: "Information and training may be designed to cover categories of hazards (e.g., flammability, carcinogenicity) or specific chemicals."

You also recall reading my article in the August 2000 issue of OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS magazine--titled "Chemical-Specific or Hazard-Category Training?"--which argued that for this very reason, chemical-specific training is not required.

In your previous job, you used hazard-category training instead of chemical-specific training. You told employees that chemicals in their work area posed certain hazards, such as flammability or carcinogenicity, but you did not name every such chemical. You told them to get chemical-specific information from material safety data sheets and labels.

Curious, you call your predecessor and ask him why he provided chemical-specific training. He replies that OSHA's compliance directive, Instruction CPL 2-2.38D (1998), specifically states: "The employer must make employees specifically aware which hazard category (e.g., corrosive, irritant, etc.) the [chemical] falls within." The former safety manager adds that chemical-specific training was a waste of time because the employees were unable to retain the flood of information they got from him.

Is OSHA's compliance directive wrong? Can you save your new employer a lot of wasted time and money? Will you get a hefty performance bonus?

OSHA's Compliance Directive Is Wrong

The answer is that OSHA's compliance directive is indeed wrong. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission unanimously ruled on Sept. 29 that the HazCom standard does not require chemical-specific training.

The decision was issued in Secretary of Labor v. Cagle's Inc. (OSHRC Docket No. 98-485). There, OSHA's lawyers argued that Cagle's had violated the training standard because Cagle's employees were "not knowledgeable about the hazards of a particular workplace chemical": carbon dioxide. …