Practices must be trained in OSHA’s new labeling guidelines

Failure to instruct staff about the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals could result in significant fines.

By — Posted April 3, 2012

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All medical practices soon will have to train employees to use revised labels and safety data sheets for potentially hazardous chemicals. The products include cleaning agents such as bleach, disinfectants and glass cleaners, and substances used for local or general anesthesia.

Offices should have safety data sheets for each potentially hazardous chemical available to employees, but recent government action means that the documentation will change. Training on the use of this information will need to change as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final rule on March 20 delineating its new hazard communication standard, bringing the U.S. in line with the United Nations’ global chemical labeling system. The goal is to have the labels of hazardous chemicals and the safety data sheets of manufacturers present information in a uniform way as to whether a substance is a skin irritant, a carcinogen, a poison or a narcotic or has some other deleterious effect.

Chemical manufacturers have the option of providing labels and safety data sheets in the new or old format. As of June 1, 2016, only the new format can be used. Medical practices also have until this date to update any signage posted in the workplace related to hazardous chemicals.

But before then, medical practices, along with other businesses, need to provide training on the new labeling.

Training, which must be provided by Dec. 1, 2013, can be conducted by a staffer using OSHA materials or a consultant specializing in this area. The service also is available from some state agencies. There is no standard for how often to give the instruction or how long it should be, but experts say it should be often enough that if an employee is asked a safety-related question, particularly by an OSHA inspector, he or she should know the answer. A system also needs to be in place to ensure that some employees aren’t missed if they call in sick or are on vacation when training is conducted.

“You have to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks,” said Ian D. Meklinsky, a partner and specialist in employment and health care law with Fox Rothschild, a national firm based in Princeton, N.J. “Do you have records, and can you establish that everyone went through the training?”

Failure to comply can result in fines of several thousand dollars, which often can be negotiated. Many medical practices are too small to attract routine inspections. Violations usually are detected if an OSHA inspector arrives in response to complaints from patients or staff or if a local office is focusing on this sector of the health care industry.

Information on OSHA’s hazard communication standards is available online (link).

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