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Depending on your field of work, you may be around substances that can pose risks to your health. Luckily, OSHA has some clear guidelines for employers and how they should handle these toxic chemicals. It’s best to know your rights as an employee when it comes to these substances, because your safety is always what matters.
To ensure everyone’s safety from the chemical substances, employers and manufacturers are required to do a few things:

  • Employers must properly label all toxic substances, as well as provide safety data sheets. The employees must be taught how to properly handle the chemical substances by the employer. The employer must make employees aware of the hazards that each chemical presents, as well as the measures used protect oneself from the substance.
  • Manufacturers and importers must properly label and evaluate the chemicals before distribution. They must provide the data sheets and safety information for their downstream customers.

Hazardous chemicals can come in a few different forms. They can be dust particles like asbestos, or they can have a solid form. They can also be a liquid like mercury or a fine vapor. When it comes specifically to dust and vapors, the regulation and documentation of these substances can be tricky. OSHA has set enforceable Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) to help keep workers safe. Since airborne substances are hard to measure, a PEL is a time weighted average of the measured airborne substance over an 8-hour period. If the PEL is exceeded, it is unsafe to be exposed to the workspace. Most of OSHA’s PELs for General Industry are contained in “1910.1000 – Air Contaminants” and are listed by chemical name in Tables Z-1, Z-2, and Z-3.
Follow this link for the lists and PEL equation.
If the workplace is over-exposed to these substances, respirators or facemasks must be provided by the employer to protect everyone. It is the employer’s responsibility to keep a safe workplace and provide employees with the means to stay safe.
As a worker, it is your right to a safe workplace. So, what can you do to help yourself and your fellow employees to stay safe? If you believe your workplace is unsafe, contact OSHA by either going to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. As an employee, it’s your right to raise a health or safety concern without retaliation from the employer.
If you work for a small business, suggest that your employer look into OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. It’s free and confidential, and the inspection conducted does not result in penalties for the employer, if hazards are found.
For more information on specific substances, go to the OSHA Occupational Chemical Database  for physical properties, exposure guidelines and emergency response protocol for over 800 different substances.
In a workplace full of hazards, knowledge is power. Know your rights and know the substances that you’re handling. If you keep aware of these, you will decrease the risks you face on a daily basis and enjoy a long and prosperous career.
Main source: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/hazardoustoxicsubstances/
For more information on this topic, contact Phillip Tatlow at (920) 854-3214 (Wisconsin) or (314) 266-2286 (Missouri).

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