Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Make Your HazCom Training More Effective

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Make Your HazCom Training More Effective

Article excerpt

Safety and health training got

a tremendous shot in the arm

when OSHA promulgated its hazard communication standard in 1983. Under the standard's information and training provision, 29 CFR 1910.1200(h), employers were required to provide some 14 million manufacturing employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new hazard is introduced into their work area. With the extension of the standard in 1988 to the nonmanufacturing sector, excluding the construction industry, and in 1989 to the construction industry, an additional 18 million employees became eligible for hazcom training.

For companies where that message has not sunk in, an OSHA inspection can be a painful experience. The hazcom information and training provision, 29 CFR 1910.1200(h), was fourth on OSHA's list of most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 1989.

Though the goal of informing workers about workplace hazards is applauded by safety and health officials, they realize that a major responsibility has been added permanently to their job descriptions. Companies that have had a few years to implement hazard communication training have gained an understanding of it as an ongoing process, notes Margaret C. Samways, director of training programs for NUS Corp., a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. "It's not something you do once a year," she emphasizes. "This is an ongoing thing. We have to be sensitive to it full-time."

An integral part of the hazard communication standard, training is required under the law to include at least:

. "Methods and observations that may be used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area ...

. "The physical and health hazards of the chemicals in the work area

. "The measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards ...

. The details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer, including an explanation of the labeling system and the material safety data sheet, and how employees can obtain and use the appropriate hazard information."

Training, points out Melody Sands, an industrial hygienist in OSHA's Office of Health Compliance, is only as good as the information workers get in the labeling system and material safety data sheets (MSDSs). "When MSDSs get better and contain more useful information, or better formats, then that leads to better training...," she says.

Be Specific

In order for training to be effective, and to comply with the law, experts agree, it has to be tailored to the specific workplace. According to George Lowry, Ph.D., an author of hazard communication training books, companies aren't effectively training workers when they simply show them a "prepackaged" hazard communication training video and say, "O.K., your MSDSs are in such and such a place, you can look up the information there."

Adds NUS's Samways: "You've got to make training specific to that workplace, that operation, those circumstances which are unique in every workplace." However, general hazard communication videos do have their place in training programs, she notes. For example, if a videotape deals with understanding MSDSs, Samways suggests turning the tape off where appropriate and discussing some actual MSDSs sent by suppliers to your company. "Ideally, you give out samples to your employees," she explains. "Say, 'Here's two different sheets. Can you locate these specific sections?' Give them a little practice."

Another way to make training programs site-specific is to customize videotapes. Such training aids are effective, Samways says, since they show workers in the actual worksite. However, for large companies, customizing such videos would be expensive because of the number of plants involved. One way to handle this problem, Samways says, is to stop a broader, company-specific tape at particular points. …

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