LAB SAFETY

Compliance Quiz: Spot the HazCom Mistake

SITUATION

Health and safety director Matt Hazard is responsible for keeping the lab compliant with OSHA HazCom rules. He takes inventory of all the hazardous substances the lab uses in the workplace. He verifies that there’s a complete, up-to-date Safety Data Sheet (SDS, previously known as MSDS for Material Safety Data Sheet) from the chemical’s manufacturer or supplier for each one. He assembles all of the SDSs into a loose leaf binder and keeps it in his office. Although Matt keeps the office locked, he goes out of his way to remind lab workers that he’ll gladly give the binder to anybody who asks to see it.

QUESTION

What did Matt do wrong?

  1. He didn’t independently verify the accuracy of the information listed in the SDS
  1. He used the manufacturer’s SDS instead of preparing a lab version
  1. He kept the SDS binder in his locked office
  1. He kept the SDSs in a paper binder rather than a computer system

ANSWER

C. Matt did everything right except for keeping the SDS binder behind a locked door

Significance: One of the distinctions of this otherwise rather ordinary case is that the clinic owner also agreed to make restitution payments of $1.711 million to cover what CMS paid out to reimburse the clinic for the medically unnecessary services involved in the scheme.

EXPLANATION

OSHA HazCom (short for "Hazard Communication") standards require employers, including labs, to make the SDS readily accessible to any worker who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals and substances. Although it doesn’t specify an exact method, OSHA interprets "readily accessible" to mean that workers should have access to the SDS when they’re in work areas during work shifts. Workers should have access to that information themselves and not through somebody else. Keeping SDSs in the office of a safety director (or any other individual for that matter) is problematic because:

  • The office may be far from the work area or even off the premises;
  • The office is likely to be kept locked during certain shifts; and
  • Workers must be able to see the SDS without having to ask anybody for permission or making an appointment

WHY WRONG ANSWERS ARE WRONG

A is wrong because labs are allowed rely on SDS information they get from their chemical manufacturers or suppliers without having to evaluate the substance independently.

B is wrong because labs are allowed to use the manufacturer or supplier SDS—they only have to write their own SDS if they produce the chemical themselves.

D is wrong because old fashioned loose leaf paper binders are perfectly fine. While making SDS sheets available to lab workers via computer terminal is an option, it isn’t mandatory.

(For more on how to comply with OSHA Hazcom rules, see GCA, Nov. 2, 2015)

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