The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set standards in place to warn employees, employers, and consumers about hazardous chemicals. Following is an overview of how the administration’s Hazard Communication Standard, Safety Data Sheets, and Hazard Pictograms can help you detect the presence of toxic chemicals in cleaners.
How the Warnings Work
For a number of years, OSHA has required that chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers provide Safety Data Sheets (formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets) for each hazardous chemical sold in the United States. These data sheets are required by law to be user friendly and presented in a sixteen-section format for easy reference. The sheets include information regarding hazard classification, first aid measures to be taken should someone become ill after misusing the chemical, proper handling and storage procedures, and the effect the chemical has on the environment.
Employers are responsible under OSHA's regulations to provide training to all employees who will handle, use, store, or ship hazardous chemicals as part of their job. This training must include instruction on how to detect the presence of the chemical in question should it be released into the air, how to protect oneself from the hazardous chemical, and the type of hazard the chemical in question poses.
Recently, OSHA changed its regulations to also require pictograms to be placed on the label of each hazardous chemical to clearly show the classification that the chemical in questions fall under. There are nine image types for hazardous chemicals, including health hazard, flame, exploding bomb, and skull and crossbones to denote acute toxicity. The environmental pictogram denoting aquatic toxicity is not required but can be used as the manufacturer or importer sees fit. These pictograms contain images that are recognizable in any language, thus ensuring that anyone who picks up one of these chemicals will have at least a general idea of the type of hazard that it poses.
Green Verses Toxic Cleaner
Most people do not think of cleaners as toxic chemicals, but the truth is that many common ones do pose a health hazard for one or more reasons. It is not uncommon for cleaners to contain flammable chemicals or chemicals that are dangerous when inhaled, exposed to bare skin, or mixed with one or more other cleaners. Common cleaning products have been known to cause asthma, rashes, sore throat, dizziness, headaches, red eyes, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
Given this fact, it is not surprising that many people are turning to green cleaners in an effort to effectively clean surfaces without putting their health at risk. However, it is important to note that not all cleaners labeled as "green" are in fact safe. In many instances, a person would still need to wear protective gloves and/or eye goggles while using green cleaners. There is little federal regulation in place regarding the labeling of products as "green," so it is possible for cleaners containing harmful chemicals to bear this label.
How to tell if it's green?
There are several ways you can tell if a green cleaner is really nontoxic and safe for the environment. Good green cleaners are either certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and bear the Design for the Environment (DfE) or Safer Choice label or have some other trustworthy form of certification, such as those provided by Green Seal and Ecologo. Genuine green cleaners are also fragrance-free and often contain biodegradable ingredients. Furthermore, a trustworthy manufacturer of green chemicals will always post the OSHA Safety Data Sheet for the chemicals in question on the company website for easy access.
One particular green cleaner that stands out from the rest is MastiClean. It is a multipurpose cleaner that meets the above-mentioned requirements. MastiClean is not only certified as a green cleaner but is also hypoallergenic, odorless, nonflammable, and noncorrosive. It’s effective enough to remove roofing tar but safe enough to use on surfaces where food is prepared, such as kitchen counters and the dining room table.
Anyone who uses cleaners on a regular basis should be aware of the hazards that they can pose to health and well-being. Thankfully, OSHA has taken the lead in ensuring that all such cleaners are adequately labeled for user protection, and many companies are changing their ways by producing new cleaners that are safer for individuals and the environment.