Managing Multi-Employer Worksite Responsibilities for HazCom
Today’s workplace is far different than it was in the past. Workers from multiple employers are increasingly working side-by-side at the same worksites, and employers are sharing responsibility for worker safety more and more.
When chemicals are involved, confusion can arise over who has obligations under OSHA’s HazCom Standard. We know that, because people often ask us about requirements for multi-employer worksites during our webinars and conference talks. We’ve also noted that much of the guidance out there surrounding this subject doesn’t truly address the issue, and only discusses simple employer-employee relationships as if the modern-day realities of multi-employer worksites don’t even exist.
Let’s fix that! In this article, we’ll provide you with practical guidance on HazCom compliance when more than one employer is involved, compiled from the HazCom Standard itself, as well as the variety of OSHA guidance documents on multi-employer requirements.
First, Some Background
Before we dive into the nuances of HazCom at multi-employer worksites, here’s a refresher on general employer responsibilities under the HazCom Standard.
29 CFR 1910.1200(b)(1) requires all employers to “provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed.” Specifically, employers must have a written and site-specific HazCom program containing a current chemical inventory list, systems for labeling of containers and other forms of warning, and safety data sheets (SDSs) for all hazardous chemicals in the workplace. They must also provide chemical safety information and training to their employees. These requirements are intended to ensure that workers understand what chemicals they work with and how to work with them as safely as possible – including proper storage and handling precautions, ventilations, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
That last point is important to remember as we proceed. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and become focused on “who has to do what,” but this is ultimately not the most productive approach. The goal should be to ensure that all employees at a worksite have access to hazard information, whether they’re our employees or another employer’s, and whether the chemicals in question are “ours” or “theirs.” If all employers at the work location understand and work together toward this goal, collaboration will be easier and worker safety will improve.
What Does the HazCom Standard Say About Multi-Employer Sites?
OSHA addresses requirements for multi-employer worksites in 29 CFR 1910.1200(e)(2). It states that employers who produce, use or store hazardous chemicals at a workplace in ways that could result in exposures to employees of other employers must address those hazards in their written HazCom program. For example, a contractor working on-site may introduce chemicals to the worksite that present potential exposure hazards for another employer’s workers. Conversely, a host employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite may potentially expose a contractor’s employers to chemicals.
The standard requires these employers to include a number of specific things in their written HazCom programs:
- Methods the employer will use to provide other employer(s) on-site access to SDSs for each hazardous chemical that other employer(s)’ employees may be exposed to;
- Methods the employer will use to inform the other employer(s) of any precautionary measures that need to be taken to protect employees during the workplace’s normal operating conditions, and in foreseeable emergencies; and
- Methods the employer will use to inform other employer(s) of the labeling systems used in the workplace;
29 CFR 1910.1200(e)(3) states that an employer may rely on an existing HazCom program — such as one from another employer — to meet these requirements, as long as the HazCom program meets all of the requirements under paragraph (e) of the Standard.
But Can I Get More Specific Guidance?
At this point you might be asking, “That’s a start, but has OSHA ever provided guidance about a specific multi-employer scenario so we can get a concrete example of how they interpret the regulatory requirements?”
We’re in luck, because OSHA has addressed multi-employer HazCom requirements in a 1990 letter of interpretation (LOI). In this LOI, OSHA responded to a question from a contractor who had been cited by their local OSHA office. The contractor in question sent employees to work at a host employer’s job site, where they were exposed to chemicals used and stored by the host employer. In their letter, the contractor noted that they were cited for not having a written HazCom program, although they had been relying on the host employer’s program. The contractor asked if reliance on the host employer’s program was sufficient, and if not, what else they needed to do to be in compliance with requirements for multi-employer worksites under the HazCom Standard.
In their response, OSHA stated that “all employers with employees exposed to hazardous substances must develop, implement and maintain” a written HazCom plan, and that “programs must be developed whether the employer generates the hazard or the hazard is generated by other employers (emphasis added).”
Based on this information, OSHA considered the citation for the contractor to be warranted because, while the Standard allows Employer A to rely on the HazCom program of Employer B, Employer A must still have their own written program that describes that reliance. The intent of that requirement is to ensure that Employer A’s workers know where to go and what to do to get information about the chemical hazards they will be exposed to. The contractor in this case did not have a written plan and so did not meet all of their obligations under the Standard.
It’s worth parking on this point for a moment. I’d wager that many employers don’t know that even if their own operations don’t involve use of hazardous chemicals, they still have HazCom obligations if their employees enter a multi-employer worksite and are exposed to another employer’s chemicals. Fewer still may know that they can’t simply say they rely on the other employer’s HazCom program, but must specify that in writing within their own written HazCom program.
At the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo recently held in San Diego, California, an OSHA representative confirmed that during fiscal year 2019, HazCom was once again the second most frequently cited of all OSHA standards. The presenter also confirmed that one of the most frequently cited provisions of the HazCom standard is the requirement for the written program. Employers often fail to make it site-specific enough, or to include sufficient details about HazCom management practices.
For employers at multi-employer worksites, the method that the employer uses to provide access to HazCom information for chemicals in the workplace, even those used by another employer, is a very important detail that must be addressed in your own written program. You can rely on another employer’s written program for the details when appropriate, but make sure to state that in your own written program. It’s also a good idea to make sure the other employer’s program is sufficient, and accurately describes important details such as the method used to provide access to SDSs.
Think back to our earlier point — that the goal is ultimately to protect all workers in the worksite. Successful HazCom management in multi-employer scenarios requires effective communication and coordination among all employers to ensure there are no gaps in information, and that information is available to all employees about all of the chemicals they work with, no matter which employer uses them.
Are There Other Resources I Should Know About?
Looking for more guidance? Here are some additional resources to help you understand your obligations for multi-employer worksites.
- LOI on Definition of Multi-Employer Worksites. This 2012 LOI clarifies OSHA’s definition of a multi-employer worksite and provides examples of various scenarios that would fit the definition.
- Multi-Employer Citation Policy. Describes and clarifies OSHA’s policies for issuing citations in situations in which more than one employer may share responsibility. Also discussed various levels of employer responsibility, based on whether they create, expose, correct, or control exposures to workplace hazards.
- Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI). A one-stop-shop for OSHA resources on managing joint responsibilities between staffing agencies and host employers for temporary workers. For specific guidance on managing HazCom in these scenarios, check out TWI Bulletin #5.
Finally, if you’re looking for some help getting started on your written HazCom program, be sure to check our own Written HazCom Plan Template, which unlike other templates out there, gives you step-by-step guidance to help create a site-specific written program that meets OSHA requirements. And for a general overview of HazCom requirements, watch our popular GHS/HazCom webinar.
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