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Simplified chemical labels may reduce workplace accidents

Hazardous chemicals are common in a variety of industries, and many Pennsylvania workers risk exposure from improper handling, storage or labeling. Earlier this month, the government rolled out new chemical labeling standards--years in the making--intended to reduce the incidence of workplace injuries related to dangerous chemicals.

The new standards come with a host of benefits for employees and employers alike. Current labels can convey incomplete or wrong messages to workers who have difficultly reading. But new labels will be streamlined and simplified, making them easier for workers to use.

Businesses largely endorse the changes too. Prior to the changes, companies had to teach employees about two distinct sets of labeling rules: one created by the United States and the other by the United Nations. But the new standards eliminate any differences between federal and United Nations rules, so employers only have to teach one labeling system. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that they stand to save nearly half a billion dollars from the new labels.

Dangerous chemicals have the potential to harm an estimated 43 million employees across the country. Unfortunately, that potential is realized all too often in workplace accidents. According to OSHA, chemical accidents are responsible for at least 500 episodes of sickness and injury and 40 deaths annually.

Businesses can choose to comply with the labeling rules immediately, but it is not required. All businesses, however, must follow the rules by 2016. While the new labels will provide additional safety measures to those who work with dangerous chemicals, employees can use workers' compensation laws to recover losses if some accidents still happen to occur.

Source: Associated Press, "New labeling rules aim to protect workers from hazardous chemicals," Mar. 20, 2012.

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