Hazcom: Key items on hazardous waste labeling

Getting rid of hazardous materials is not your routine trip to the dumpster – it requires careful preparations, specific labeling and adherence to a number of guidelines, depending on the industry and circumstances. Organizations must be aware of the regulations that govern their sector and abide by those or else face fines, penalties and the potential for workplace injuries. Fortunately, there are resources available that make it easy for companies to understand what's required of them when it comes to hazardous waste communication. Here, we'll lay out a few of the most important items to note.

Proper transport starts with proper labeling
It's impossible to have a grasp on what to do with hazardous materials if you can't identify that waste in the first place. Anything that can be a health hazard to those who come in contact with it – whether through chemical properties, radiation, biological threats or otherwise – must be labeled appropriately.

"Proper hazmat labeling is just as important as marking other safety concerns."

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals provides everything an organization needs to know about how to label hazardous chemicals. The benefit of the GHS is that it's a standard, internationally-recognized system that crosses borders and consolidates labeling requirements. In other words, hazmat that crosses from one country to another will fall under the same standards rather than taking on different national guidelines.

Additionally, the GHS requires a fact sheet for each hazmat container that covers correct usage through every stage in the lifecycle. That's important because some materials and industries fall under the GHS standards at different points in their lifecycle. For example, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics aren't covered at the point of consumption, but are covered in workplaces and in transport.

The GHS also classifies hazmat under the following categories:

  • Physical: Solids, liquids and gases that are flammable, explosive, under pressure, self-reactive, pyrophoric, self-heating, organic peroxides or corrosive.
  • Health: Those materials that are toxic, carcinogenic, cause skin, eye or respiratory irritation, or have germ cell mutagenicity.
  • Environment: Those materials that are acutely toxic to the aquatic environment, have bioaccumulation potential, or rapidly degrade.

Good communication prevents workplace accidents
Just as hazmat must be labeled according to specific terms, not just any worker is qualified to handle such waste. If workers aren't trained and hazardous waste is not marked, the wrong person could end up moving a dangerous item. If that happens, the chances of an accident can be higher, which compromises workplace safety and leads to disciplinary action from regulators like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Proper hazmat labeling is just as important as marking areas where personal protection is necessary, where fire extinguishers are located, where it's OK to smoke a cigarette and any other situation involving safety signs. And like those other actions, following hazmat protocol should be a top priority and central part of workplace safety practices.

Are you prepared to deal with hazardous waste?
Are you prepared to deal with hazardous waste?

Understanding DOT requirements
The Department of Transportation is also involved in hazardous waste removal and has their own set of guidelines for safe practices. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains truck and bus highway safety, including reducing the instances of transportation accidents involving hazardous waste.

The DOT labels play a crucial role in communicating hazards to drivers, road workers and other vehicles. Perhaps most importantly, shippers must take note of these designations. The GHS makes it easier for hazmat to travel between borders, but that still means those shipments must be labeled correctly in the first place. Drivers should be aware of the specific hazards involved with the cargo they transport. There are a few specific items shippers should be aware of when marking cargo as hazmat, according to the FMCSA:

  • Bulk or non-bulk? Markings will vary based on the size of the container.
  • Labeling must be clear, durable, visible and in English.
  • Shipping name, ID number, permit number, cosigners' or cosignees' name and address, and special hazard warnings must all be made clear
  • This End Up – hazmat containers, especially liquids, can be sensitive to orientation.

Hazardous waste is dangerous by nature and improper handling may well lead to workplace accidents and injuries. These can range from minor burns to lethal events, so it's crucial to let employees, shippers and any other handlers know when they're dealing with hazardous materials.