Even chemicals routinely used in day-to-day activities can be extremely harmful if they are mishandled, used improperly or absorbed into the body over time. Chemical use in the workplace can lead to burns, occupational disease or even explosions.
It is extremely important for employers to do everything they can to ensure safe handling of chemicals in the workplace. According to OSHA, more than 5 million workplaces across the country and at least 43 million American workers deal with hazardous chemicals. For both employers and workers, compliance with OSHA standards for communicating information about the use of hazardous chemicals is critical in preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.
The most recent inception of OSHA’s hazardous chemical communication requirements is known as HazCom 2012. As part of HazCom 2012, employers were required to give certain key workers – such as safety committee members, front-line supervisors and management – training on the new standards.
This training includes instruction on teaching other employees how to read the new chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets required under HazCom 2012. The deadline to provide HazCom 2012 training recently passed on Dec. 1, 2013; businesses must be in full compliance with most of the remaining provisions of HazCom 2012 by June 1, 2015. In Pennsylvania, the specialized training is available through the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program at Penn State University.
Each employer that uses dangerous chemicals must develop its own written hazard communication program under HazCom 2012; employees must be informed about any hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed. Labels and other types of warnings on chemical containers themselves, Safety Data Sheets, and formal training programs are all required aspects of this mandatory disclosure to workers.
The OSHA standards regarding communication to workers about possible exposure to hazardous chemicals are certainly important. However, just knowing about possible chemical threats in the workplace is not enough on its own to guarantee that workers will not be injured or develop an occupational illness due to chemical exposure.
Expose to hazardous chemicals can result in immediate injury, like chemical burns. It can also lead to an illness that develops over time, even when exposed to only small amounts of chemicals on a day-to-day basis.
If you have suffered an on-the-job injury, or if you have developed an illness that may be related your work, you could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ comp benefits pay for medical bills associated with a workplace injury or illness and also provide partial wage replacement. In the event a worker dies from an occupational injury or illness, workers’ compensation benefits may be available to the surviving family members of the worker. Workers’ compensation benefits are available on a no fault basis, meaning that they are available even if a worker was somewhat responsible for causing his or her own injury.
HazCom 2012 may force employers to notify you when you might be working with hazardous chemicals. But, it may take legal action to collect the full benefits you need to address the effects of a workplace injury or illness brought on by hazardous chemicals. If you have been injured or have become ill due to chemicals in the workplace, talk to a workers’ compensation attorney today to learn more about your right to benefits and to begin building your case.
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