Many employees handle or use chemicals at work, but for some employees, the only potential exposure involves consumer products. They may use common cleaning chemicals like bleach or ammonia, or they may use solvents similar to what they have in the garage at home. However, employees using or handling products that are sold in hardware or grocery stores can still be covered by OSHA’s Hazard Communication (HazCom) standard.
OSHA provides an exemption for using consumer products, but it applies only when employees use those products as intended by the manufacturer, and when the duration and frequency of exposure is comparable to typical consumer use. If the employee exposure (or potential exposure) goes beyond normal consumer use, the HazCom standard applies.
Consumer products labeled according to the Consumer Product Safety Act may be exempt from the HazCom labeling requirements, but that doesn’t mean they are “safe” for employees. Employees still have a right to know about the hazards, which means training.
An OSHA letter of interpretation from 2005 asked about employees who use office cleaning products to clean their own workstations. OSHA said the employer must determine the exposure level, but noted that cleaning a personal workstation was not a job requirement. Employees who occasionally wipe down or clean their workstations should meet the consumer product exemption, if their exposure is comparable to typical consumer use. However, custodial employees who spend the day cleaning and disinfecting the workplace likely have exposure well beyond typical consumer use.
In addition, the HazCom standard applies to employees who “use” chemicals and defines “use” to include packaging, handling, or transferring. For example, retail or warehouse employees who stock consumer products “handle” those chemicals, even if they never open the containers. The standard addresses this at 1910.1200(b)(4).
Another OSHA letter of interpretation from 1995 described employees who repackage bulk supplies of toiletries, cosmetics, and health care products. OSHA stated that even though the workers handle only consumer products, their exposure was not comparable to normal consumer use. The employer had to maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) and train employees.
Employers that use significant quantities of a consumer product might purchase the product in bulk. If employees transfer a cleaning product or solvent from its original container into a smaller, secondary container does the container need a label? What if that employee leaves the secondary container and starts working in a different area, no longer controlling the container during his or her shift, and does not return to use up the product or empty the container?
The HazCom standard at 1910.1200(f)(8) says, in part, that if a chemical is used in the same shift by the same person, the secondary container does not need a label. However, if the container is left unattended or may be used by an employee on another shift, it must be labeled.
If the chemical is used only “in house,” then the container must be labeled with the product identifier, words, pictures, symbols, or a combination per with 1910.1200(f)(6). Employers can use HMIS or NFPA labels, or create their own system for in-house container labels as stated in 1910.1200(f)(7).
If you’ve got hazardous chemicals, you probably need to maintain a list of those chemicals and provide Safety Data Sheets for your employees. The Chemical Center feature in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANGEMENT SUITE helps you find and save SDSs in your own binders. It also provides links to our training programs to help streamline your training obligations.