Hazardous Chemical Compliance at a Glance
Comply with these Texas Hazard Communication Act requirements to avoid costly penalties and, more importantly, protect your employees.
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.
Prepare for potential inspections
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services is ramping up hazardous chemical inspections in schools. THCA violations could result in fines up to $100,000. 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. 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 responsible for reviewing the list at least once each year and keeping previous lists on hand for 30 years.
Depending on the number 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.
- Pro tip: Explore online SDS management. Some employers purchase access to online SDS management systems. If you choose to manage SDSs online, keep hard copies in case the system is unavailable.
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.
- Employers cannot require employees to work with improperly labeled secondary containers unless the chemical will be used immediately.
- Check your inventory to ensure all labels are GHS-compliant. If they're not, contact the manufacturer or distributor.
- Pro tip: Don't rely on labels. Container labels remind employees about the hazards of working with chemicals. Don’t treat labels as a substitute for teaching employees how to read and understand each chemical’s SDS.
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.
- Pro tip: Consider safer alternatives. If a chemical's SDS calls for employees to wear respirators, consider whether you can use a less-hazardous chemical. Before you require employees to wear respirators, you must implement a respiratory protection program.
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.
Protect 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.
- Pro tip: Make sure customized employee notices are compliant. You can create your own notice specific to your schools, but it must retain some elements of the state-provided notice. For example, customized notices must be at least 8.5 x 11 inches, and the words NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES must be in bold, capital letters at least one-half inch high.
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.
- Lesson from the field. A Fund member was recently found in violation of the THCA because they trained employees as required, but they had no documentation to show to the inspector. Use this sample training roster to record training dates, attendees, instructors, and subjects covered.
Go beyond compliance
The THCA represents the minimum steps that employers should take to protect employees. Consider the training requirement, for example.
Under the THCA, employers must train employees on general topics such as reading and interpreting chemical container labels, locating hazardous chemicals, and managing exposures. But if you want training to resonate, it has to address the specific chemicals employees use, whether they’re stripping gymnasium floors, applying pesticides, or organizing chemistry labs.