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Using the Michigan Right to Know Law

Your employer must provide information on all hazardous materials used in your workplace. That's the law. You must be told what products contain, what they can do to you and what you can do to protect yourself and co-workers from injury and illness.

Information on hazardous chemicals must be provided in four different ways:

1) WRITTEN PROGRAM: Employers must have a written plan which describes how the employer is complying with the Right to Know law.

2) LABELS: All containers of hazardous chemicals have to carry a label identifying the manufacturer and the product and warning of hazards.

3) MATERIAL DATA SAFETY SHEETS (MSDS): For every hazardous material an MSDS must be available. The MSDS provides detailed information on toxic ingredients, health effects, and special handling procedures.

4) TRAINING: Employers must provide training to all workers who might be exposed to hazardous chemicals at work.

The Right to Know law covers a basic group of chemicals considered to be hazardous. Chemical suppliers must evaluate all other chemicals and provide any hazard information that is known about their products. The law covers all chemicals known to be hazardous.

When evaluating chemicals, the chemical supplier must report any human or animal studies which indicate health effects. This is to insure that workers who are exposed to the chemicals have the most complete hazard information.

The main exception to the Right to Know law is hazardous wastes, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The law also does not apply to tobacco products, food, drugs or cosmetics used by workers. Chemicals in sealed packages which are being transported are not covered as long as the seals remain intact.

Finally, agricultural employers do not have to comply with provisions of the law for pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides which are regulated under existing federal law.

The employer's written plan must explain how they meet the requirements of the law. It must list all hazardous chemicals in the workplace, the employer's method of informing workers about the hazards of non-routine tasks and the hazards of unlabeled pipes, and the methods the employer will use for sharing hazard information with on-site contractors.

This written plan must be available to workers and union representatives. The lack of a written plan is the most often cited violation of state safety laws.

Each container of hazardous chemicals must have a label. The word "container" includes: bags, barrels, boxes, cans, cylinders, drums, tank trucks and pipes.

The label has to provide three different types of information:

1) identity of the product. This can be the chemical name, brand name or trade name. The same name must appear on the MSDS.

2) An appropriate hazard warning, including information on health effects and safety hazards.

3) The name and address of the supplier.

The MSDS is the second way in which hazard information must be provided. An MSDS must be provided for each hazardous product in the workplace. When hazardous chemicals are mixed an employer must provide an MSDS for each hazardous ingredient and maintain a system that identifies the appropriate MSDS for each component of the mixture.

A complete MSDS will include the following information:

1) Identity of hazardous ingredients.
2) Chemical characteristics (flash point, boiling point, etc.)
3) Physical hazards such as fires and explosions.
4) Health effects, including signs of exposure, acute and chronic effects, and primary routes of entry.
5) Exposure limits.
6) Ingredients which are known or suspected of causing cancer.
7) Precautions for safe handling.
8) Measures to control exposures, such as ventilation and personal protective equipment.
9) Emergency first aid procedures.
10) Name, address and phone number of the supplier.

No blank spaces are permitted on the MSDS; however, the supplier may indicate that information is unknown or not applicable.

To insure that workers have access to the MSDSs, the employer must comply with the following:

1) The MSDSs must be readily accessible during each work shift to workers when they are in their work area(s). Union representatives must also have access to the MSDSS.
2) The MSDSs must be organized in a systematic and consistent manner, and employers must train workers in how to find a particular MSDS.
3) Five days after an employer receives a new or updated MSDS a notice must be posted for 10 days.

An employer must provide training before workers are assigned to handle any hazardous chemicals.
Employers must provide training in the following three situations:

1) when a new worker is hired
2) when workers are given new assignments where new hazards exist
3) when a new hazard is brought onto the job site

The training program must cover these topics:

  • the requirements of the Right to Know law
  • the methods used to detect hazardous chemicals in the workplace n the specific hazards of chemicals to which employees might be exposed
  • how to find and use written in- formation like labels and MSDSs
  • the measures necessary to re- duce harmful exposures, such as local exhaust ventilation

Simply giving a worker an MSDS to read or showing a 30 minute video does not meet the requirements. The training must ex- plain the hazards of specific chemicals and how to use available information. It should give workers a chance to ask questions, and based on SEMCOSH experience, should be at least 4 hours long. Annual re- fresher training is strongly recommended.

A container of unknown and unlabled chemicals or a container of known hazardous chemicals which is not labeled or for which an MSDS is not available may be considered an imminent danger. In order to refuse to handle such a container, a worker should file an imminent danger complaint with the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services. You can get the form from the SET division at .

After a complaint has been filed the state must conduct an investigation within 24 hours. If, given a reasonable opportunity to do so, the employer does not provide the required label and MSDS or satisfy the inspector that the chemical is not hazardous, the inspector may red tag the container. Workers cannot handle that container until the employer provides the label and MSDS and the inspector removes the red tag.

In Michigan the Right to Know law is enforced by the Department of Consumer and Industry Services ( 1) and the Department of Public Health, Division of Occupational Health (). You can go to them with a Right to Know complaint. Inspections are conducted at random, and if violations are found citations and orders to correct the violations are supposed to be issued.

But don't hold your breath waiting for an inspector to show up. If you want justice you have to get organized and work for it.

Workers and union representatives should work to encourage management to observe the Right to Know law.

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