While OSHA has instituted a liberal transition period for chemical manufacturers, the agency has enacted a Dec. 1, 2013  deadline for employers — including cleaning companies and departments — to train their workers on the new language that will appear on chemical labels and on safety data sheets.

The hope is that manufacturers will get a head start on changing their labels, and that employers and their staff will be able to comprehend the hazard warnings when a chemical is eventually purchased and delivered for use.

OSHA hasn’t said how they want employers to train their workers, but the training process shouldn’t be any different than when a business introduces a new chemical to their employees, says John Poole, an OSHA Outreach Training consultant. 

“If people have been abiding by the HazCom standard as it has been in place over the years, then it really isn’t going to change much,” Poole says.

While a lot of employers fail to train their workers, when Dec. 1 hits, there won’t be any excuses for non-compliance.

“It’s one of those things that people at and say ‘Oh, it’s just more regulation,’” says Poole of employers who put off training. “But, what would you do without it? People would ignore it. And people would get hurt. There are a boatload of chemicals out there, and some of them can kill you pretty quickly.”

Brushing off training can cost employers their business. If an accident occurs to an employee on site, employers are held responsible for the grievance.

The result of an accident can cost employers thousands in workers compensation costs, or more if a lawsuit, or citation is brought against employers.

In its training guidelines, OSHA warns employers that one of the first questions the agency will ask following an accident is whether the injured employee was trained to do the job.
OSHA investigates all workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths, so training is time and money well spent. 

The same goes for employee complaints.  Since employers can’t predict when an employee might complain, it is especially important for them to be in compliance with OSHA laws.

“HazCom in general is on OSHA’s radar, and there are a number of violations, historically,” Balek says. “The obvious [consequence] is the potential for penalties and citations.”

Employers face fines of $7,000 per infraction to more than $70,000 for repeated violations, according to OSHA.

The best way to avoid an accident or a run-in with OSHA?

“Try to get with the program,” says Rathey.

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