Ease the Pain of Hazmat Regulatory Compliance

Most construction companies find themselves shipping fully regulated hazardous materials at least occasionally.

DID you know that OSHA considers a brick a hazardous material if is cut or sawed during construction? And that a highway patrol officer enforcing Department of Transportation regulations considers over-the-counter primer a flammable liquid? Hazardous materials aren't always visible to the untrained eye, yet they are present at just about every construction site in the United States.

OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, DOT, and a virtual alphabet soup of state and regional agencies regulate the storage, use, and transportation of hazardous material products. If there's a chance that an employee may be exposed to any type of hazardous material, OSHA's Hazard Communication regulations mandate a written HazCom plan, including a full inventory of hazardous materials, employee training, and immediate availability of Material Safety Data Sheets for each hazardous product--including that brick.

OSHA's Hazard Communication standard requires that MSDSs be available to all employees. This can be problematic and confusing, especially on multi-employer work sites, because it encompasses not only hazardous materials purchased by the primary employer, but also any hazardous material brought on site by subs or other contractors to which the employer's personnel might be exposed. Some general contractors agree to maintain a central repository of all MSDSs for the site and make it available to all construction workers on site, regardless of employer. This system works as long as the repository is available any time an employee is working. If a contractor relies on another employer to provide access to MSDSs for his employees, and if the MSDSs are ever unavailable to the contractor's employees, that contractor can be cited by OSHA. Likewise, if a contractor agrees to provide MSDS access to another employer's workers and fails to do so, it also may be cited.

Outsourcing for Assistance
It's easy to see how hazardous materials management can be confusing and overwhelming. An outsourced environmental, health and safety company can simplify the hazardous materials regulatory process by providing reliable EH&S service offerings.

Typically accessed by telephone, EH&S outsourced providers speak the regulators' language and make compliance as efficient and painless as possible. A provider that offers 24/7/365 support is a good idea to eliminate coverage failures related to weekend work or operations in multiple time zones.

For example, an outsourced EH&S provider can provide MSDSs electronically (by fax or online). This is a practical and cost-efficient alternative to housing and maintaining written inventory lists and large binders of MSDSs at each construction site. The provider assumes responsibility for maintaining a current copy of the manufacturer's MSDS for each hazardous product in a master inventory of products that might be on any of a contractor's locations, and it makes them available any time that work could be performed.

Also important to note is that while an outsourced EH&S provider can satisfy regulatory requirements for written inventories and MSDSs, it is ultimately up to the site manager to ensure all site personnel have been properly trained and have easy access to telephones, fax machines, and/or computer terminals.

Construction sites routinely transport hazardous materials that fall within DOT regulations. Therefore, transporting hazmats also requires forethought--even if the transport vehicle is a pickup truck. For instance, transportation of flammable liquids can entail preparation of hazardous material shipping papers, readily available spill response information, and a driver trained and certified as a hazmat employee.

Big Fines Are Possible
Because DOT fines are high--up to $32,500 for a single error--it is in an employer's best financial interest to ensure compliance. Most of the incidental transport of hazmat falls under the "materials of trade" exception (49 CFR 173.6). The flammable primer mentioned earlier would fall under this exception, as long as each container is less than 8 gallons and the total weight of hazmat on the truck is less than 440 pounds.

Most construction companies find themselves shipping fully regulated hazardous materials at least occasionally--perhaps returning unused materials to a vendor or purchasing propane for the lift trucks. An outsourced EH&S provider that offers 24/7 hazmat transportation assistance is a handy tool in these circumstances. On-call transportation professionals can classify hazmats; provide packaging, marking, and labeling instructions; and even can fax completed shipping papers directly to any specified location in real time.

Once again, efficient site management is extremely important, as well. Management must ensure employees who transport materials or offer hazmats into transport by a common carrier are trained and certified (perhaps by the same EH&S outsource), and they must ensure their personnel call the outsource whenever there is a potential hazmat issue.

This article appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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