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94% of Hazard Communication Programs Fall Short—How About Yours?

Toby Graham /

Hazard communication is an essential part of any environment, health, and safety program. To keep their employees, contractors, and customers safe, organizations need to have systems in place for labeling hazardous on-site chemicals and training workers to handle those chemicals. Additionally, every hazardous substance should have an associated safety data sheet (SDS) kept in an accessible library.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration requires employers to do all of the above, as well as to maintain a written hazard communication program.

But how many employers actually meet these requirements? Consider the fact that hazard communication is one of the top 10 most frequently violated OSHA standards, with 3,671 citations in 2019 alone.

And 2020 may prove worse. During the COVID-19 crisis, as more people interact with more chemicals at higher stakes, the risks are perhaps higher than ever before.

To find out where today’s organizations stand, KPA launched the Hazard Communication Program Grader—a free, easy-to-use tool that reviews the basic elements of a safe and effective hazard communication program.

So far, we’ve had 168 people grade their programs. Here’s what we’ve learned, as of June 2020.

The Good News

Overall, many respondents demonstrated that they could have the relevant SDS accessible within 5 minutes of exposure—a key measurement for any Hazard Communication Program.

We’re also seeing success when it comes to ensuring chemicals are properly labeled.

This means our clients’ employees know what chemicals they’re interacting with, and that they have access to the information they need in the event of an incident. They know exactly what to do when chemical X splashes on their skin, and what personal protective equipment they should be using when cleaning with chemical Y.

Additionally, we found that most clients’ employees have access to the written Hazard Communication Programs that our safety teams build to manage these efforts.

The Bad News

We see opportunities for improvement when it comes to managing communication with contractors. Our lowest-performing category involved the question of whether respondents have a plan for informing employees about chemicals an outside contractor may bring on-site. This is concerning, as many organizations outsource tasks such as pest control and housekeeping—tasks that often require contractors to bring their own supplies (and hazardous chemicals) into the work environment.

The reverse—whether organizations inform contractors about on-site chemicals—also proved to be lacking.

Combined, these two areas leave contractors and employees without key information they need to keep themselves and others safe. Not to mention that both of these issues open organizations up to non-compliance risk.

Additionally, while the majority of respondents indicated that they had HCS programs in place, we found that they struggled to keep those programs updated.

How Does Your Hazard Communication Program Stack Up?

How is your organization faring in this critical area of environmental health and safety? Are you exposing your workers to deadly chemical risks, and yourself to expensive legal and regulatory issues?

Find out by completing the Hazard Communication Program Grader.

The assessment is quick and easy—but so far, only 6% of respondents have answered all 9 questions correctly. Are you better than 94% of organizations out there?

Take the assessment.

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