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Question iconI work in a clinical laboratory and am concerned about the health hazards of chemicals I am exposed to. What protections do OSHA standards and regulations offer?
Answer icon Your concerns are justified. Hazardous chemicals present physical or health threats to workers in clinical, industrial, and academic laboratories. They include carcinogens, toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, and neurotoxins as well as agents that damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. OSHA currently has rules that limit exposures to approximately 400 chemical substances. OSHA's standard on Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories covers all workers using hazardous chemicals in laboratories. It requires employers to keep worker exposures at or below permissible exposure limits and to periodically measure these exposures if they suspect that they may be above specified thresholds. Employers also must develop and implement a written chemical hygiene plan for lab workers who use hazardous chemicals and provide information and training to help protect workers. An updated OSHA Fact Sheet, Hazardous Chemicals in Labs, and OSHA Publication 3119, Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, provide more in-depth information. Both are available on the agency website at www.osha.gov. Click on Newsroom.
Question icon I plan to open a new business soon and want to get off on the right foot regarding worker safety and health requirements. Where do I start?
Answer iconStarting a new business can be challenging, but you are already ahead of the game because you recognize that you have a legal obligation to protect your workers. OSHA standards and regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) require you to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that could injure or kill your workers. As an employer, you must comply with these requirements, which include displaying OSHA's You Have a Right to A Safe and Healthful Workplace poster (OSHA 3165) or your state's equivalent, in a conspicuous spot so your workers know their rights and responsibilities under the law. For most types of businesses, you must maintain records of injuries and illnesses if you have 11 or more employees at any time. If you use hazardous chemicals in your workplace, you must inform workers about the dangers and train them in proper safeguards. It's also important for you to know that all businesses covered by the OSH Act are subject to inspection by federal or state compliance safety and health offices. OSHA can help by explaining your federal regulatory requirements and assisting you as you create a safe and healthful workplace that conforms to the law. OSHA's Area Office staffs provide advice, education, and assistance for businesses that request their help. In addition, OSHA's onsite consultation service, offered in all 50 states, provides free safety and health assistance to businesses with 250 or fewer workers. OSHA also offers safety and health training, partnerships, and a variety of tools and publications to help you. For more information, see the new fact sheet, OSHA Help for New Businesses, at www.osha.gov. Click on Newsroom, then Fact Sheets.
Question iconI'm worried about an exposed high-voltage electrical wire at my jobsite that could hurt me or one of my coworkers. My supervisor doesn't seem concerned. What can I do?
Answer iconWhat you are describing sounds like an imminent danger-a workplace hazard that puts you at immediate risk of death or serious physical harm. An imminent danger can be a safety hazard such as the exposed electrical wire at your site or an unstable trench. It may also be a health hazard such as toxic substances or dangerous fumes. If you detect an imminent danger at work, you should notify your supervisor immediately and request corrective action. Also ask the supervisor to provide protection to you and your coworkers until the hazard is eliminated or controlled. If your employer does not take action, however, call the nearest OSHA office or the agency's toll-free number at (800) 321-OSHA (6742) and give details about the danger. If you request, OSHA will not reveal your name to your employer. If the information you provide reveals a suspected imminent danger, a compliance safety and health officer will inspect your workplace, usually the same day you report the problem. If the inspection confirms the presence of an imminent danger, your employer must notify employees of the hazard and clear them from the imminent danger area. If the employer refuses to correct the hazard, OSHA may post an "Imminent Danger" notice and seek a temporary restraining order from the nearest federal district court requiring the employer to remove employees from the area. For more information about imminent dangers and your legal rights when you report one or refuse dangerous work, see the new OSHA fact sheet, Imminent Danger, at www.osha.gov. Click on Newsroom, then Fact Sheets.