Have you received a letter recently?
Throughout 2019, many county judges and other county officials received notifications from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) about the Texas Hazard Communication Act (THCA). If you received one, you may be asking, "Is my county in trouble?"
For the majority of these notifications, the short answer is — not yet. These notifications are part of an ongoing effort by DSHS to remind counties that their compliance with THCA is required. Yes, required compliance. These notifications are not a fine, nor are they a notice of inspection.
Though counties are not subject to the standards of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they are subject to state law. In this instance, counties are required to comply with Chapter 502 of the Texas Health and Safety Code; this is better known as the THCA. And the DSHS has jurisdiction to ensure that counties comply with Chapter 502. This authority includes communication with counties to inform them of the act, inspections to ensure the act is followed, and possibly, fines should the DSHS find counties are out of compliance.
Your county may fall into one of three categories: up-to-date policy, out-of-date policy or no policy at all. It is considered a best practice to review your policy annually and make any necessary revisions. If you are unsure about the status of your county’s hazard communication policy, or if you know your policy does not meet the requirements of Chapter 502, the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) can help. Please contact your TAC Risk Control Consultant. To see who your representative is, please find your county here.
How TAC can help you with hazcom and the THCA
What is hazard communication?
Hazard communication, also called hazcom, is a standard that requires the classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. This standard specifies policies and procedures that chemical manufacturers and users (including counties) must follow to ensure employees and the public are protected from exposure.
What is GHS?
GHS stands for the globally harmonized system for the classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. This is a format used to organize the labels and safety data sheets for chemicals. This format does not affect the applicability or requirements of the Texas Health and Safety Code.
I thought counties were exempt from OSHA standards. What is Chapter 502?
Though counties aren't subject to OSHA standards, the Texas Health and Safety Code requires employers who do not fall under OSHA standards, such as counties, municipalities and other state and local governmental entities, to comply with Chapter 502 of the code. This chapter, known as the THCA, has been in effect since 1989.
What does the act require?
The THCA is extremely detailed but can be broken down into three major categories:
- THCA requires employers to develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication program that describes how the requirements of THCA will be met.
- Labeling, safety data sheets & workplace chemical list
- The chemicals used and kept by the county must be documented in a workplace chemical list. The chemicals must also be properly labeled and have safety data sheets. Employees who use these chemicals must have access to these documents.
- Education & training
- Before starting work, employees who work with hazardous chemicals must be provided a copy of the county’s hazard communication program and the safety data sheets applicable to their jobs. The county must notify employees of their rights by means of a posting. Employees should also be trained on how to interpret safety data sheets as well as various topics on protecting the health of users from hazardous chemicals.
Is there an agency that enforces the regulation? What happens if I do not comply?
Since 1989, the DSHS has performed regulatory compliance inspections under THCA. The department is required by the act to perform an inspection when a complaint is received. In addition to this, DSHS may also perform random inspections. If violations are determined through inspection, your county will receive a violation letter with a request for corrective action. After this, enforcement will follow.
What resources are available to me?
The TAC Risk Management Pool (RMP) has a complete suite of services available to Pool members to assist in compliance with the THCA:
- Consultation: Whether your program is out of date, has never been reviewed, or is nonexistent, TAC Risk Control Consultants are available to provide in-person consultation to determine whether your county is in compliance with the THCA. Risk Control Consultants may provide recommendations to bring your county into compliance.
- Policy assistance: TAC Risk Control Consultants may provide a policy review of your current hazard communication program. In addition, if your county would like to start from a blank slate or if your county doesn’t have a hazcom program, Risk Control Consultants can provide a sample program and assist in its implementation.
- Training: Hazard communication is one of the many training topics TAC Risk Control Consultants can explain to your employees. The curriculum delivered by your consultant meets the requirements of the TAC Sample Policy and the THCA.
Should you need assistance with hazard communication or any other risk control topic, please contact your TAC Risk Control Consultant.