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Environmental Health and Safety

Hazard Communication

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Every person who works with chemicals has a right to know the identities and hazards of those chemicals.   The Supervisor/Principal Investigator should make office/laboratory workers aware of the chemical hazards present in the workplace or laboratory.  Environmental Health and Safety can offer additional advice and training.  When working with chemicals, there are two important questions to ask:

How can the chemicals hurt me?
Chemicals have two general types of hazards:  Physical hazards and health hazards.   Examples of physical hazards include chemicals which may be flammable or combustible, explosive, shock-sensitive, oxidizers, or react violently with water or with air.   Examples of health hazards include toxins, carcinogens, teratogens, irritants, and sensitizers.

In general, you can be exposed to a health hazard unless the chemical enters the body.  There are four major routes of entry:

  • Absorption – the chemical contacts the skin or eyes and causes immediate damage or is absorbed into the bloodstream
  • Inhalation – the chemical is breathed and enters the bloodstream through the lungs
  • Ingestion – the chemical is swallowed and enters the bloodstream through the gastro-intestinal track
  • Injection – the chemical enters a break in the skin from a new or previous injury

How do I prevent chemicals from hurting me?
In general, employees working with chemicals are protected on three levels:

  • Administrative controls are policies, procedures, guidelines, rules, or trainings that reduce the duration, frequency, or severity of exposure to the chemical
  • Engineering controls are equipment or substitute products which reduce or eliminate the duration, frequency, or severity of exposure to the chemical
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the clothing, safety glasses, gloves, and other equipment worn by a worker to protect the worker from the hazards of a chemical.  PPE does not reduce or eliminate the hazard.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that SDSs are available to employees who work with potentially harmful substances.  An SDS summarizes information about the material, including chemical components, hazard identification, first aid, spill, and firefighting procedures, incompatibilities, safe handling and storage requirements, and disposal guidelines.

Workers should review an SDS prior to working with a chemical.  SDSs should also be readily available for quick response to spills, medical emergencies, and other situations involving the chemical.  SDS should be kept as hard copies in the work areas.  Digital copies are acceptable if there is a computer station in the work areas, to which all chemical users have access.

Safety Data Sheets are available online from most manufacturers. The following are links to the SDS websites of common manufacturers of laboratory chemicals:

Chemical GHS Labelling

As of June 1, 2016, all secondary (non–manufacturer) containers of hazardous chemicals MUST adhere to the Global Harmonizes System (GHS) format.  All relevant information can be found in section 2 of the Safety Data Sheet, titled Hazard Identification.  New GHS compliant label must include the following: Product Identifier, Signal Words, Hazard Statements, Precautionary Statements and Symbols (hazard pictograms).


Hazard Communication




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