Hazard Communication

Washington State Labor and Industries has an occupational safety and health standard called Hazard Communication (Right to Know) that requires that employees be informed about hazardous chemicals in the workplace through labeling, Material Safety Data Sheets/Safety Data Sheets (M/SDSs), and training.

Every person who works with or around chemicals has a right to know the identities and hazards of those chemicals. The Supervisor/Principal Investigator should make employees 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 that 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 gastrointestinal tract
  • 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 training that reduce the duration, frequency, or severity of exposure to the chemical
  • Engineering controls are equipment or substitute products that 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.

What are Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)?

The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) requires that M/SDSs are available to employees who work with potentially harmful substances.

An M/SDS is a document that is prepared by the manufacturer of a chemical or product that gives specific information about that product. Information that can be found on an M/SDS includes:

  • Name of the product
  • Name and address of the manufacturer
  • Hazardous chemicals in the product
  • Physical/chemical characteristics
  • Fire hazard data
  • Reactivity data
  • Health hazard data
  • Safe handling and use of information
  • Control measures

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:

Similar products may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so be sure to read container labels and, if you want more information, call Environmental Health and Safety (509-963-2255) to obtain the M/SDS specific to the product.


General precautions to follow are:

General First Aid Guidelines

Read the M/SDS for detailed first-aid information. In general, for skin contact, wash with soap and water, and for eye exposure, flush the affected area with water for at least 15 minutes. If overexposure by inhalation occurs, remove the victim to fresh air, and if a hazardous chemical is swallowed, check the MSDS for the first-aid procedure. If in doubt seek medical attention immediately.


Employees can protect themselves by always reading container labels thoroughly before using an unfamiliar product. Under normal conditions of use, none of these products is expected to produce adverse health effects. Normal conditions of use mean using a product only as directed and in areas with normal room air circulation. For more detailed information on chemicals and chemical products, employees should consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

What do I do if I have a question about the hazards of a product used in my work area?

Contact the Environmental Health & Safety Department at extension 2255 for assistance.

CWU News

CWU Women’s History Month Film Series to begin March 5

February 28, 2024


CWU Capital Planning and Projects director appointed to Ellensburg City Council

February 28, 2024


More News