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Course 705 - Hazard Communication Program

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Analyzing the Workplace

Initial Assessment

Now that you have reviewed scope of the Hazard Communication Rule and employer responsibilities, it's time to get down to business. The first task is to determine what chemicals you have in your workplace. It's important for the person conducting the initial assessment to be familiar with the definition and characteristics of "hazardous chemicals," so let's take a look.

This gas can be both a physical and health hazard.

Hazardous Substances and Chemicals

OSHA has defined the term "substance" as chemical elements and their compounds in the natural state or obtained by any production process, including any additive necessary to preserve the stability of the product and any impurities deriving from the process used, but excluding any solvent which may be separated without affecting the stability of the substance or changing its composition.

For the purposes of the HCS, a hazardous chemical means any chemical which is classified as a physical hazard or a health hazard, a simple asphyxiant, combustible dust, pyrophoric gas, or hazard not otherwise classified.

Physical hazards - a chemical that is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects:

  • explosive
  • flammable (gases, aerosols, liquids, or solids)
  • oxidizer (liquid, solid or gas)
  • self-reactive; pyrophoric (liquid or solid)
  • self-heating
  • organic peroxide
  • corrosive to metal
  • gas under pressure or
  • in contact with water emits flammable gas

See Appendix B to 1910.1200 -- Physical Hazard Criteria.

Health hazard - means a chemical which is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects:

  • acute toxicity (any route of exposure)
  • skin corrosion or irritation
  • serious eye damage or eye irritation
  • respiratory or skin sensitization
  • germ cell mutagenicity
  • carcinogenicity
  • reproductive toxicity
  • specific target organ toxicity (single or repeated exposure) or
  • aspiration hazard

The criteria for determining whether a chemical is classified as a health hazard are detailed in Appendix A to 1910.1200 -- Health Hazard Criteria.

Hazardous mists produce vapors when spray painting.

Forms of Hazardous Chemicals

You might think that the chemicals which apply to the rule are those in liquid, gas or particulate form. But, the standard's definition of "chemical" is much broader than that commonly used. According to the HCS, chemicals that apply may exist in one of many forms:

Dusts - are finely divided particles. Example - wood dust.

Fumes - are even smaller particles usually formed when solid metal is heated and vaporized, and then condenses as tiny particles.

Fibers - are similar to dusts but are of an elongated shape. Examples - asbestos and fiberglass.

Mists - are liquid droplets that have been sprayed into the atmosphere.

Vapors - are gases formed when liquid evaporates.

Gases - are substances that are normally airborne at room temperature. A vapor is the gaseous phase of a substance which is a normally a liquid or solid at room temperature.

Solids - such as metal, treated wood, plastic.

Liquids - the most common form in the workplace.

Chemical Effects

Effects of Hazardous Chemicals.

The effects chemicals have on the various organs of the human body depend on several important factors:

  1. The form of the chemical: Is the chemical a solid, liquid, or gas?
  2. How the chemical contacts the body: Is the chemical ingested, inhaled, absorbed, or injected?
  3. The amount, or dose, the body receives: How much chemical makes its way into the body?
  4. How toxic the chemical is: How poisonous is the chemical?

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the Ammonia hazards are more common than you think. Many companies use this dangerous substance for refrigeration, and workers need to know the risks. In this podcast, Dan describes anhydrous ammonia, and how it’s used in breweries, cold storage warehouses, processing milk, cheese and meat.

Routes of Entry

Silica and Routes of Entry.

Another important task when assessing the workplace for chemical hazards is to determine the route(s) of entry the chemicals may take. If we know the route(s) of entry, we can then determine appropriate engineering, administrative, and PPE controls to eliminate or reduce the exposure. The four common routes of entry are:

  1. Ingestion: Do we eat or drink it?
  2. Inhalation: Do we breathe it in?
  3. Absorption: Does it pass through the skin, eyes or other membranes?
  4. Injection: Does it enter through a puncture or cut?

We'll be talking more about the physical characteristics, routes of entry, and toxicity of hazardous chemicals later in the SDS module.

Assessing and Analyzing the Workplace

Check for hazardous chemicals regularly.

There's a simple two step process for assessing and analyzing the workplace for chemical hazards:

  1. Assess the workplace to see which hazardous chemicals are currently being used. Do this by conducting a walkaround inspection and checking records. Use the results of your assessment to create a list of hazardous chemicals. With chemical list in hand, obtain a SDS for each chemical in preparation for the next step.

  2. With each SDS, analyze the hazards presented by each chemical in the workplace. The SDS is your primary tool to determine the physical and health hazards, routes of entry, toxicity, and other information about each chemical in your workplace.

Once you identify and know the nature of the hazards of each chemical, it becomes important to control those hazards by eliminating or reducing those hazards using a systematic approach.

Chemical Hazard Control Strategies

The Hierarchy of Controls.

Hazardous substances can be used safely in workplaces if adequate control strategies are used to prevent exposure to those chemicals. A control strategy includes any device, procedure, piece of equipment, system, etc., that is used to keep hazardous chemicals from contacting workers at harmful levels. To eliminate or reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals, an effective protocol called the "Hierarchy of Controls" has been developed. When you determine during a workplace assessment that exposure to harmful levels of hazardous chemicals is present, try to eliminate or reduce that exposure using the following strategies in the following order:

The first three strategies focus on doing something with the hazard.

  1. Elimination: The best solution is to totally eliminate hazardous substances in the workplace.

  2. Substitution: Substitution is the next-best solution. Replace a toxic substance with a less-toxic substance. If you can't get rid of the toxic substances, you may be able to replace them with substances that are at least less toxic.

  3. Engineering Controls: Redesign or modify processes that use toxic chemicals to eliminate or reduce exposure to the chemical hazard itself.

  4. The last two strategies focus on doing something with behaviors to reduce exposure to the hazard.

  5. Administrative Controls: Change work procedures to reduce the duration, frequency, and severity of exposure to the chemical hazard. The chemical hazard, itself, is not eliminated or reduced using this strategy. The primary focus is to incorporate safer work practices through written safety policies, rules, supervision and training. And that's a problem because you may have to regularly supervise employees as they perform a task. These controls work only so long as employees "behave" properly.

  6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The use of PPE is probably the most common strategy, and mandatory when working with hazardous chemicals. PPE forms a barrier between worker and hazard. Once again, the chemical hazard is neither eliminated nor reduced, and a high reliance is placed on appropriate use of PPE for this strategy to be successful.

Remember, the first question you want to ask is, "How can I eliminate, reduce, or engineer out the hazard?" Hopefully you'll be able to eliminate the hazard or reduce it to the point where safe behaviors or PPE won't be necessary.

That's a lot of information to absorb. But there's light at the end of the's time to take the module quiz.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. For the purposes of the Hazardous Communication Standard (HCS), a "hazardous chemical" as any chemical which poses a physical or a health hazard.

2. The primary tool to determine the physical and health hazards of chemicals in the workplace is the _____.

3. Which of the following is NOT one of the four "routes of entry" of hazardous chemicals?

4. Under the hazard communication rule, solids are not considered potentially hazardous chemicals.

5. Which of the following is the first strategy to consider to control hazardous chemicals?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.