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Worker training: it's the law & it's good for business.

Business is confused about hazardous materials training. Many managers don't know who needs to be trained or how much or where to go to get training. Instructors in hazardous materials find that in many firms, employers and employees alike don't know how to manage the potentially dangerous substances companies use.

Gerald Hooper, safety and training director for Hartec Management Consultants of Anchorage, says, "Consistently, employees don't know how to work smart with their materials. People don't read labels and don't realize the importance of reading labels. And let's face it, a lot of employers just aren't educators."

Lack of knowledge about hazardous materials, or hazmat, training can hurt companies in many ways. Businesses can be fined for failing to provide required training. Untrained workers may cause serious injury or death to themselves or others, damage or destroy equipment and buildings, and lose business for their employers. The threats of lawsuits and increased insurance premiums for lack of attention to employee safety also make worker hazmat training good business practice. Some businesses, though, may be paying for employee training they don't need.

Most employers know that workers need training for handling, shipping or disposing of dangerous chemicals, but many don't realize that almost all employees should receive training in hazardous materials recognition and handling through company hazard communication programs. Employees who use a hazardous substance on the job have a legal right to be trained in its correct use. Further, employees who respond to emergency spills and who work at hazardous waste sites need more specific and extensive training.

A hazard communication program -- the worker-right-to-know provision of state and federal law -- provides instruction and information so employees can recognize dangerous conditions arising from hazardous materials in the workplace. Employers also are required to inform contractors and subcontractors of any hazardous materials in their work areas. Standards are performance oriented; no specific number of hours of training is mandated.

"Many businesses, such as law offices, do not realize they need a hazard communication program," says Stan Godsoe, chief of consultation for the state Department of Labor's Division of Labor Standards and Safety. He points out that many common chemicals, such as cleansers and copy machine fluids, are classified as hazardous materials.

In Alaska, worker safety is administered primarily by the state Department of Labor, which has adopted U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. The penalties for violation of the hazard communication law vary according to severity of violation; from fines of $200 or less for regulatory violations, such as failure to display posters, to $10,000 for willful criminal violations. The amount of a fine depends on the size of the company, previous history and evidence of good faith.

Although the state Division of Labor Standards and Safety usually must have a formal complaint to conduct an inspection of a company, some industries, such as construction, are classified as higher risk and receive periodic inspections. Companies are cited for failure to adopt a written hazard communication policy three times more often than for any other safety infraction.

Hazmat Headaches. Predictably, some businesses find the time and expense of training onerous. Eddie Burke, owner of Eddie's Chevron in downtown Anchorage, says compliance with training requirements can be difficult for small firms.

"The government wants you to comply with all their rules and regulations, but with the kind of turnover we have, it's really difficult. We have eight people here, and I estimate we have a new employee a month. At $50 per employee, that's about a thousand dollars a year in worker training alone," he says.

Burke adds that about two or three times a year, customers create a hazardous spill by driving off without removing the gasoline nozzle from their cars' tanks. In this situation, employees need to be able to capture the gasoline, take care of a possible fire and cordon off the area.

George LaMore, a state Department of Labor industrial hygienist, points out that a hazard communication program doesn't have to be expensive. "It takes a little investment in time, but employers can create their own written program. After all, they know their businesses best, and the material safety data sheets and labels provide most of the information."

LaMore adds that a good hazard communication program benefits companies in many ways. Besides avoiding fines, implementation of an adequate program helps prevent costly accidents and possible lawsuits. It also can be an information resource for the firm. "I get a lot of calls about whether a respirator is needed. Most of the time, these companies could answer their own questions by looking on the material safety data sheet," says LaMore.

In addition to employee training, a hazard communication program should include labeling and other forms of warning. Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) forms, available from chemical manufacturers or the Alaska Department of Labor, provide information on a chemical's physical and reactive characteristics, fire and explosion hazards, health hazards, precautions for safe use, and handling and control measures.

According to LaMore, employers are responsible for all aspects of employee safety. In addition to a hazard communication program, an overall safety program should address equipment operating procedures; the use of physical safeguards, such as goggles and machine guards; recognizing and managing stress factors, such as heat, cold, radiation and noise; and emergency action.

Under Alaska's right-to-know law, employers are required to inform employees of noise, heat and cold stress, hand-arm vibration and different kinds of radiation -- if any of these factors reaches hazardous levels. Physical Agent Data Sheet (PADS) forms, which explain the nature and impacts of these stress factors, should be kept with MSDS forms.

The right-to-know law applies whenever employees could be exposed to any hazardous chemical under normal work conditions or in a foreseeable emergency. Employers must remove employees from exposure to the substance if an MSDS form cannot be obtained and provided to employees within 15 calendar days of a request. Employers must provide employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals and physical agents in their work areas at initial assignments and whenever a new hazard is introduced into their work areas.

LaMore notes that employers are responsible for seeing that the employees carry out the company's safety program: "Responsibility for safety lies with the employer."

Training Trials. The state Department of Labor's Godsoe says many companies may be paying for inappropriate training. "Training should be specific to the job. Some workers are getting generics for what should be specific information on the substances they deal with on the job. Employers, before they invest, should find out if the training program meets standards and should make the trainers show how the training is going to apply to their needs," he explains.

Certification of trainers is done by the state Department of Education's Post Secondary Education Division, which follows Department of Labor recommendations. Says Godsoe, "There are a lot of private companies offering training out there. We don't endorse or recommend any training company. If an employer has any doubt, they can call us and get it straight from the horse's mouth."

Jack Turner, industrial hygienist for the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, says that, like the state government, his department does not endorse or accredit any training program. In Alaska, OSHA has jurisdiction over maritime employees -- including longshoremen and shipyard and terminal workers -- and civilian federal employees. The military, hard-rock mining, shipping beyond the three-mile limit and aviation are policed by other federal agencies.

A federal accreditation program has been proposed and a final rule is expected sometime this year. In areas under federal jurisdiction, 8 to 40 hours of training are required and standards are performance oriented. "It doesn't matter how many hours you've got if you don't know what you're doing," Turner says.

Companies can take advantage of the state Department of Labor's consultation and training program to see if their hazard communication programs are properly designed and carried out. As part of this free and confidential service, an inspection officer will provide a written report referenced to the proper standards. The employer's only obligation is to correct situations that could result in serious injury or death.

Says LaMore, "If a company wants to see its tax dollars at work, these free safety audits are one of the best ways. If people want to hire outside firms to come in and do it, that's their business." The Department of Labor also will provide assistance to employers in the form of material safety data sheets from its database of more than 100,000 program development aids and safety seminars.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Turner says the biggest area of confusion for employers is training for oil-spill workers. "People call here asking where they can get the standard 40-hour oil-spill emergency-response course. No 40-hour course will tell you everything. Responders still need appropriate site-specific training," he notes.

According to Turner, oil-spill workers are required to have 24 hours of training. Temporary workers hired after an oil spill need only 4 hours of training. But if those workers become full-time employees, they must receive 20 hours of additional instruction.

"We knew emergency response would be expensive, so we gave companies an option," says Turner. You can either train your own people, or, in conjunction with an awareness-level training program, you can have an evacuation plan and let the fire department or someone else handle the emergency."

State and federal Hazard Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standards require specific training for employees who respond to releases outside their own work areas (emergency responders) and who work at what has been designated a hazardous-waste site by a governmental body. The state's LaMore says, "For most companies, the hazard communication training should be enough. The HAZWOPER training is for public service people like the fire department and for specialized workers. Training employees to this level is expensive. If you have a good safety program, you won't have many emergencies, and it will usually be cheaper to have a contractor come in and do the work."

Environmental specialists feel that the 40 hours required by law may not be nearly enough for them. Sam Womack, operations manager for VRCA Environmental Services of Anchorage, a division of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. that specializes in hazardous-waste cleanups, feels that his employees need much more. "Our guys are on two weeks and off two weeks, and they spend the time they're not working on training. They get 20 to 30 hours of training per month above the 40 required by law. The biggest thing is to inform them of new regulations and proposals."

Most Alaska businesses don't require the level of hazmat expertise expected at companies that provide such specialized cleanup services, but managers increasingly are recognizing that the appropriate measure of preventive training and the implementation of safe procedures behoove the bottom line. Safety begins at home, in other words.

Tom Johnson, an instructor with Haztek of Anchorage, a consulting and management-assistance firm, says, "People look at the fire department and the Alaska Railroad and say those guys need hazmat training, but they don't look at themselves and say this is important to me. Training is deficient from volunteers to airline warehouse workers. Chemicals out there aren't getting any more user-friendly."

BY THE BOOK

Under Alaska's right-to-know law, companies are required to have written hazard communication programs that provide employee training. Further, employees must be informed of the requirements of the right-to-know law; any operations in employee work areas in which hazardous materials (labeled chemicals, as well as substances generated in work operations, such as hazardous dust or fumes) are present; and the location and availability of the written hazard communication program. Included in the written program should be lists of hazardous chemicals, physical agents, and Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and Physical Agent Data Sheet (PADS) forms.

Employee training under a hazard communication program should include instruction in:

* How to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area, such as monitoring conducted by the employer, consumer monitoring devices and visual appearance or odor of chemicals;

* What substances are physical hazards, such as explosives or corrosives, and health hazards, such as substances that may cause cancer or other diseases;

* Ways to protect against hazards, including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as appropriate work practices, emergency procedures and personal protective equipment to be used;

* What to do in the event of an emergency and how small leaks or releases are cleaned up;

* Details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer, including an explanation of the labeling system, the MSDS and PADS forms and how employees can obtain and use the appropriate hazard information;

* How to recognize signs and symptoms that may indicate exposure to a hazardous substance.

In addition to meeting legal requirements, a good hazard communication program should include regular meetings, with provisions for documenting attendance. Firms that use certain chemicals, such as chlorine and ammonia, may be required to conduct emergency drills. Also recommended is a quality control plan for ensuring updated MSDS forms and labels, maintaining current training, instruction of new hires and transfers and proper cataloging of new hazards introduced in the workplace.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Hazmat Guide: Part Two; includes related article
Author:Gerhart, Clifford
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:2208
Previous Article:Traffic stoppers; doing business along the Alaska highway.
Next Article:Missing links leave oil untapped.
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