The “right-to-know” law
Hazardous materials are an important part of our standard of living. We live around and work with many products each day. However, accidents also occur and upon their release, they may cause harm to people, property, and the environment, and may disrupt critical activities in our lives. Reed College has over 7000 hazardous substances on campus. Examples include gasoline and sulfuric acid in our cars, toxic mushroom extracts and bacteria in laboratories, ionizing radiation in the nuclear reactor, and many, many others everywhere.
Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Code, OAR Chapter 437, Division 2 Subdivision Z Hazard Communication, is called the “right-to-know law.” It requires that we know and understand important up-to-date safety information about potentially hazardous substances to which employees and others could be exposed.
The manufacturers of these potentially hazardous substances must provide users with material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for each substance. These sheets tell about the health effects, safety hazards, and safe work and emergency procedures that we must use with the material. Employers must make this information available to the employee.
Each work area that uses hazardous materials must maintain a list of these materials and have available the material safety data sheets that describe their hazards. Ask your supervisor where the list and the sheets are located in your area. Call the environmental health and safety office at extension 7788 for additional information.
The right-to-know law does not cover radiation hazards. The college employs a radiation safety officer (RSO) for this purpose. For more information on this subject, ask the director of the Reed reactor facility or the RSO.
In addition to the Hazard Communication law, Oregon also has a Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard found in OAR chapter 437, division 2, subdivision H. This regulation covers all employees who may encounter a spill of a product, such as a gasoline leak in the parking lot, a spill of cleaning solvent, or other release.
Both of these programs, the Right-to-Know, and HAZWOPER, involve a series of basic steps that apply not only to hazardous materials but also to all other emergencies. After we recognize and identify all hazards on campus, we then can collect information about the hazards. then we must train everyone in what to do.
1. RECOGNIZING AND IDENTIFYING THE HAZARDS
occupancy or location
Think about our campus and begin to develop a list of where you might find hazardous materials. For instance, printing services, in the basement of Eliot, has inks and solvents to wash the press. The janitor closets found in every building on campus have cleaning products—sometime concentrated or highly toxic. The darkrooms have corrosive photographical chemicals. Many of our sinks have cleaners, disinfectants, or pesticides under them.
container size and shape
Does the container have hemispherical ends, is it a glass carboy, or is it tall and slender with good looking shoulders and a valve on top. Each of these gives clues about the type of hazard inside.
markings, colors, labels
Look for red (usually flammable or combustible), blue (health hazard), or yellow (reactivity); what numbers can you see? 0 = low and 4 = highest hazard. Are there signal words such as DANGER or POISONOUS (highly toxic), WARNING (moderately toxic), and CAUTION (low toxicity)? Can you see any symbols, such as a St. Andrew’s cross for food stuffs, trefoil for radioactivity, a test tube for hand and metal corrosive hazard?
Use your senses where appropriate. Is there fire and smoke? Is there irritation of the skin and eyes? Can you hear a hissing sound? Is there a chemical odor, such as rotten fruit, sulphur, gun powder, freshly cut grass, decaying fish, fingernail polish, or paint? Warning: if you are close enough to use your senses, you may already be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Each department dealing with hazardous substances will identify and provide a list of the materials in each work area.
2. GATHERING CHEMICAL INFORMATION
Updated MSDSs will be sent to the appropriate department as they are received from the manufacturer. Departments and offices must keep a copy of the MSDS and send a copy to Reed’s environmental health and safety (EHS) office. The EHS office will help other departments accumulate and update MSDSs for all hazardous materials present in the area. The EHS office reviews the departmental inventory of hazardous materials and the MSDSs annually.
Supervisors must inform employees of the hazardous substances in the work area. New employees receive training in the presence of hazardous substances. All employees need to know when a new hazard is introduced in the work area. You can use a videotape available from the EHS office to assist with your training.
Following this training, you should know how to find health hazard data, determine what personal protective equipment to wear, properly dispose of waste materials, and follow emergency procedures for fire, spills, and first aid.
If you need to use a respirator during the course of your duties, you will get special respirator training. Ask the environmental health and safety office for more information.