The A,B,C’s of OSHA’s Revised Hazard Communication Standard

DangerousChemicals_smallDo you have any acetone lying around your workplace? Unless you’re in the business of cleaning brake pads, probably not. But what about paint, glue or cleaning products?

The point is that most businesses use potentially hazardous chemicals in some form or fashion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires manufacturers to properly label those chemicals. It also requires employers to train employees on how to safely handle chemicals.

In March 2012, OSHA introduced changes to its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The revised standard is designed to improve the quality, consistency and clarity of hazard information that workers receive. With the revisions, the HCS aligns with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

What changed?
The revised HCS includes three significant changes employers and employees need to know about:

  • Hazard classification. OSHA changed the definition of hazard to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures. These specific criteria will help ensure that evaluations of hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers, and that labels and safety data sheets are more accurate.
  • Labels. Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
  • Safety Data Sheets. Referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets under the old system, Safety Data Sheets will now have a specified 16-section format.

What didn’t change?
The parts of the HCS that did not relate to the GHS, such as the basic framework, scope and exemptions, remain largely unchanged. There have been some modifications to terminology, though. For example, the term “hazard determination” was changed to “hazard classification,” and “material safety data sheet” was changed to “safety data sheet.”

What does it meant to you?
OSHA requires employers to train their employees on the revised HCS by December 1, 2013. Training must include information on the new label elements and the safety data sheets. To help you comply with the requirements, OSHA published a HCS page on its website.

Click here for other key dates regarding HCS. OSHA also offers more information on labels/pictograms and Safety Data Sheets.

Should Employers Pay Medical Bills Out of Pocket?

Some employers may be paying for seemingly minor medical care out of pocket, without involving their workers’ comp carrier. These employer/provider small-claim arrangements typically work like this.

The employer signs a formal, binding contract making them directly responsible for payment of services rendered. The employer also submits the insurance carrier’s contact information to the health care provider. The provider then sends all bills directly to the employer, as well as a “for information only” copy to the insurance carrier.

While the law allows small-claim arrangements, they are not always in employers’ best interests.

Employers may be paying for non-compensable claims
Insurance carriers investigate accidents to determine whether claims are compensable under the Texas Labor Code. By paying for claims out of pocket, employers do not give carriers the opportunity to conduct investigations. Consequently, employers may be paying for non-compensable claims. They may also be paying for co-existing conditions the carrier would have uncovered during an accident investigation.

The law allows health care providers to bill employers their usual and customary fees. Insurance carriers, conversely, reimburse providers according to the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation medical fee guidelines, which are typically much lower than usual and customary fees.

Furthermore, many insurance carriers offer workers’ compensation health care networks. Carriers negotiate rates with network providers. Again, those rates are generally lower than usual and customary charges.

Minor injuries can get worse
Assume an employee cuts his finger. After the accident, he goes to the doctor, gets five stitches and returns to work the next day.

What if a week later, the employee gets a secondary infection that requires a hospital stay?

The point is that minor injuries can get worse, and their associated costs can skyrocket. If the policyholder reports the accident to the carrier, the carrier will manage the claim and act on the policyholder’s behalf.

Employees could be denied care
If an employer owes a provider for a previous claim, the provider may turn away the employer’s injured workers until the employer pays the bill.

Policyholders assume an administrative burden
Under the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Extension Act (MMSEA), carriers that provide liability, no-fault and workers’ compensation insurance, as well as employers who pay their own claims, must identify the Medicare beneficiary status of claimants and report claim data quarterly to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Insurance carriers comply with MMSEA requirements on employers’ behalves. Employers who pay claims out of pocket are responsible for complying with the requirements. This added administrative burden leaves less time for the business of running a business.

More information

For more information on this topic, visit, and consult these sources:

  • Health care provider billing procedures. Title 28 Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 133.20
  • MMSEA. 42 United States Code, Section 1395y(b)(7) and (8)
  • Workers’ comp benefits. Texas Labor Code, Chapter 408.00

Keep Your Head, Hands and Eyes in the Game

distracted driver

Distracted driving includes anything that takes your mind, hands or eyes off the task at hand.

A mechanic was driving highway speed during daylight hours. He did not notice that the semi-trailer in front of him slowed down due to traffic congestion. The mechanic rear-ended the semi-trailer. Though the mechanic was wearing his seat belt, he did not survive the accident. The police report showed that the mechanic sent several voice/text messages before the accident. In fact, he was in the process of sending a message when the accident happened.

Traffic accidents are the leading causes of workplace fatalities not only in Texas but also across the country. Accidents such as the one described here could have been avoided if drivers were not distracted.

Drivers are 23 times more likely to have accidents if they text while driving. But distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use. It includes anything that takes your mind, hands or eyes off the task at hand.

Texas Mutual encourages employers to adopt and enforce safe-driving policies that prohibit common distractions:

  • Using the phone. If you have to speak with someone, pull over to a safe spot and call the person back. This policy also applies to hands-free devices.
  • Searching for CDs, adjusting radios or MP3 players, and changing the temperature. Instead, wait until you come to a stop sign or red light.
  • Putting on makeup, combing your hair, shaving and doing other grooming-related tasks.
  • Watching accidents, construction or other things going on outside the vehicle.
  • Eating, especially packages that are difficult to open and foods that might spill.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines, books and maps.
  • Smoking.
  • Working on a laptop or making notes.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month
The National Safety Council declared April National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. As part of the event, NSC encourages everyone to take its cell-free driving pledge. It also offers free posters and other materials on its website.

You can also visit the federal government’s website for free information and resources.

Get the Most Out of Personal Protective Equipment

Safe workerThe best way to prevent workplace accidents is to eliminate the hazards and behaviors that cause them. If that is not possible, use personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE includes gloves, hard hats, steel-toed boots and other equipment that puts a barrier between employees and workplace hazards.

For a business to get the most value out of PPE, employers and employees must do their part.

What can employers do?
• Provide the necessary PPE for each task.
• Make it clear which tasks and areas of the workplace require PPE.
• Enforce PPE use.
• Train workers how to use, maintain and store PPE.
• Retire damaged PPE immediately, and replace it as soon as possible.

What can employees do?
• Understand which tasks require PPE, and use it every time you do those tasks.
• Inspect PPE before each use, looking for cracks, tears, holes and other damage.
• Make sure PPE fits.
• If you find damaged PPE, tag it, remove it from use and report it to your supervisor.
• Store PPE in designated spots after use.
• Remember that you are responsible for wearing PPE when required.

For more information on PPE, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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