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Guest Column: Continuing Chemical Safety

The following is the second of an occasional series of guest blogs by experts in the medical clinic safety field.

Last year the first deadline is OSHA’s updated Hazard Communication Standard came and went. All employees who work with hazardous chemicals were to have training on the main elements of the update by December 1, 2013. The training was to include information about Safety Date Sheets (formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets) and their new standard format, new chemical labeling requirements, and the universal pictograms which express chemical hazards via symbols.

Did you provide that education? How well can your staff speak to that information? The HazCom update’s effects are not complete in the workplace, and on-going training and education should still be occurring in your lab. By 2015, all chemical manufacturers must convert to the new labeling scheme. However, some chemical manufacturers have already converted to the new system. They are already using the required signal words, hazard statements, and pictograms. How well can your staff identify and explain these items? Can they identify the difference between the signal words “Danger” and “Warning?” Do they know how to properly label a secondary chemical container?

Education about the Safety Date Sheets (SDS) is important as well. Again, chemical manufacturers were given time to convert to the new standard format, but some companies have easily made the conversion. This is important as staff needs to know how to read the updated format and they need to replace the sheets as they update the lab chemical inventory. Talk to staff about particular sections of the SDS. Section four contains information about first aid. Section six discusses accidental release or spill measures. These sections should be accessed quickly if a spill or exposure occurs.

Other chemical hygiene topics remain vital to a lab safety program, even if they are not a part of the HazCom updates of 2012. OSHA’s Laboratory Standard or Chemical Hygiene Standard requires a written lab plan, environmental monitors (where needed), and proper chemical storage.

Even in a smaller laboratory, if hazardous chemicals are used, the regulations of both the Hazard Communication Standard and the Chemical Hygiene Standard apply.  Be sure your staff is educated about the standards’ directives, and provide regular education for the laboratory so that compliance remains consistent and safety becomes the norm.

Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, also known as “Dan the Lab Safety Man,” is a Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multi-hospital system in the Tidewater region of Virginia.