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Chemicals and Substances

30 October, 2015 - 16:03

OSHA, as we mentioned earlier, has certain standards for how chemicals should be handled and how they should be labeled. Chemicals should be labeled in English, and employees must be able to cross-reference the chemicals to the materials safety data sheet, which describes how the chemicals should be handled.

It is estimated that 1,200 new chemicals are developed in North America alone every year.  1 For many of these chemicals, little is known about their immediate or long-term effects on the health of workers who come into contact with them. As a result, policies should be developed on how chemicals should be handled, and proper warnings should be given as to the harmful effects of any chemicals found in a job site.

In the United States, twenty-six of the fifty states have smoking bans in enclosed public spaces. These smoking bans are designed to protect workers’ health from the dangers of secondhand smoke. A recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  2 says that state or local smoke-free laws cover 47.8 percent of workplaces. The report says if the trend continues, the United States will be 100 percent smoke free by 2020. Many companies implement no-smoking policies because of health-care costs, and some companies, such as Humana, Inc., say their no-tobacco policy is simply setting a good example (since they are a health-care organization). Humana tests all applicants for tobacco in a preemployment screening that applies to all tobacco products.  3 Most workplaces have no-smoking policies, and some even prefer not to hire smokers because of the higher cost of health care. Policies dealing with substances and chemicals are an important part of any employee training and orientation.

Benefits to a Smoke-Free Work Environment and Sample Policy

  • For the employees
  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safer, healthier workplace.
  • Workers who are bothered by smoke will not be exposed to it at work.
  • Smokers who want to quit may have more of a reason to do so.
  • Smokers may appreciate a clear company policy about smoking at work.
  • Managers are relieved when there is a clearly defined process for dealing with smoking in the workplace.
  • For the employer
  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safer, healthier workplace.
  • Direct health-care costs to the company may be reduced.
  • A clear plan that is carefully put into action by the employer to lower employees' exposure to secondhand smoke shows the company cares.
  • Employees may be less likely to miss work due to smoking-related illnesses.
  • Maintenance costs go down when smoke, matches, and cigarette butts are taken out of work facilities.
  • Office equipment, carpets, and furniture last longer.
  • The risk of fires is lower.

It may be possible to get lower rates on health, life, and disability insurance coverage as fewer employees smoke.

Sample smoking policy

Because we recognize the hazards caused by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, it shall be the policy of ____________ to provide a smoke-free environment for all employees and visitors. This policy covers the smoking of any tobacco product and the use of oral tobacco products or "spit" tobacco, and it applies to both employees and nonemployee visitors of ____________.

Source: American Cancer Society, (accessed August 20, 2011).

Drugs and alcohol are discussed in Managing Employee Performance on managing performance issues. Substance abuse in the workplace can cause many problems for the organization. Not only does it create impaired ability to perform a job—resulting in more accidents—but it results in more sick days and less productivity, and substance abusers are more likely to file workersworker’s compensation#8217; compensation claims. Keep in mind that taking prescription drugs, if not used in the proper amounts or used long after the prescribed use, is considered substance abuse. A drug-free policy, according to OSHA, 4 has five parts:

  1. A policy
  2. Supervisor training
  3. Employee education
  4. Employee assistance
  5. Drug testing

According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, substance abuse costs companies over $100 billion in the United States alone.  5This staggering figure alone makes it worthwhile for companies to implement a policy and training on substance abuse.