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Hazardous labeling change could increase risk of work injury

New standards for classifying hazardous materials were adopted by OSHA from the UN's Globally Harmonized System, and this could have resulted in West Virginia workers exposed to previously classified but now off-label products. To protect against the risk of work injury for products that are not classified by the GHS, OSHA demands that all items previously classified but now falling outside the system be placed in the new 'Hazard Not Otherwise Classified" category.

Rather than carrying the standard markers for hazardous materials, HNOC labeling is left up to the manufacturer. Employers must read the labels and provide the required safety equipment. Employees will also do well to read the labels to ensure employer compliance, protect themselves from hazardous materials and have the necessary background in case of the need for a workers' compensation claim.

The Hazard Communication Standard uses a combination of pictograms and numbers to quickly relay information about the risk of a substance causing work injury. HNOC designation has not incorporated this system, instead relying on clear labeling without a standard. It is possible OSHA will only be reviewing labels for clarity during an OSHA investigation of a work injury, a report of unsafe working conditions or a routine inspection.

Workers in many industries are often tasked with the transport and handling of materials that can cause immediate injuries. Others face the increased risk of chronic disease after long-term exposure to low concentrations of hazardous materials. Employers have the responsibility to communicate this risks to their workers and provide the appropriate safety gear and training for protection. Regardless of the nature or cause of a suspected work-related injury, employees may be eligible to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits.

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