Whether they lead science class experiments, strip gymnasium floors, or maintain swimming pools, school employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals every day. The Texas Hazard Communication Act (THCA) requires schools to provide employees with information, training, and personal protective equipment to keep them safe. You can avoid costly penalties and, more importantly, protect your employees if you understand and comply with these THCA requirements.
Adopt a written hazard communication program
Strong accident prevention plans are put in writing, communicated throughout the organization, and enforced consistently. Your written hazard communication program must explain how the organization will comply with the THCA. The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) offers a customizable model hazard communication program in PDF and Word formats. The model program addresses each of the THCA requirements you will learn about in this article.
Maintain a workplace chemical list
Under the THCA, schools must maintain a list that includes each hazardous chemical normally present in the workplace in excess of 55 gallons or 500 pounds. The THCA requires you to assign someone responsibility for reviewing the list at least once each year and keeping previous lists on hand for 30 years.
Depending on the quantify of hazardous chemicals on your list, you might also be required to file Tier II reports under Community Right-to-Know laws. Tier II reports help emergency responders prepare for explosions, spills, and other events that could impact communities.
Provide current safety data sheets
Chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers must provide safety data sheets (SDSs) for each hazardous chemical. SDSs share information such as the hazards associated with the chemical, as well as precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical. Employers are required to keep a current SDS for every hazardous chemical on site, regardless of the chemical’s quantity. You must also make SDSs readily available to employees.
Label chemical containers properly
As of December 1, 2015, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) changed the information required on chemical labels. All hazardous chemicals should arrive in primary containers marked with labels that include pictograms, a signal word, hazard and precautionary statements, the product identifier, and supplier identification. If you need to relabel a primary container or transfer a chemical to a secondary container, you are required to follow THCA label specifications. The Fund recommends you check your inventory to ensure all labels are GHS-compliant. If they are not, contact the manufacturer or distributor.
Provide personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, safety/splash-proof goggles, and respirators provide a barrier between employees and chemical hazards. Each chemical’s SDS will explain which PPE employees should use. Employers must provide employees with appropriate PPE and train them on how to maintain and store it.
Report accidents and fatalities
Employers must report to the TDSHS accidents that involve hazardous chemical exposure or asphyxiation, fatalities, and hospitalizations of five or more employees. Reports must be made within 48 hours.
Maintain employee rights
The THCA is a worker right-to-know law. The Act prohibits employers from disciplining, harassing, or discriminating against employees for filing complaints, assisting TDSHS inspectors, participating in THCA proceedings, or exercising their rights under the Act.
Post the required employee notice
To help employees understand their rights under the law, the THCA requires employers to post the Worker Right to Know Notice in all workplaces where hazardous chemicals are used or stored. The notice must also be posted in Spanish when applicable.
Training empowers employees to take ownership of their safety. Under the THCA, employees must be trained on topics such as how to use the information provided on SDSs and labels, as well as how to safely handle hazardous chemicals. Remember to keep training records for at least five years so you can prove compliance if necessary.
Save time and money with online training
The Fund is here to help educational entities prepare their employees to protect themselves from hazardous chemical exposure. Fund members can cut their employee training costs by taking advantage of expert-led online courses designed around education sector hazards. Workers’ Compensation program members benefit from the Chemical Spills Overview course at no additional charge. All Fund members can upgrade to the full training library, which includes the Hazard Communication: Right to Understand course, at a discounted rate.