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Working Safely With Chemicals

The Hazard Communication Standard, also known as the Right to Know Law, is mandated in US federal regulation 29 CFR 1910.1200 with enforcement by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The OSHA web site provides extensive information about the standard.

Individuals who work with chemicals in laboratories are required to comply with the OSHA Lab Standard, which includes the requirements of the Hazard Communication standard but also incorporates additional requirements. Common sources for hazard information are Safety Data Sheets, Labels, and Training.

Safety Data Sheets

The Hazard Communication Standard requires that employees receive safety training if they will be working with hazardous chemicals. The Hazard Communication Standard requires that Safety Data Sheets (SDS), which are commonly also referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) (PDF), be provided by chemical manufacturers and distributors and that facilities where hazardous chemicals are located must train workers on how to safely handle hazardous chemicals. Instruction on the use of MSDS and proper chemical labeling must be included in this training.

The following sections are standard sections of Safety Data Sheets:

  • Identification includes product identifier; manufacturer or distributor name, address, phone number; emergency phone number; recommended use; restrictions on use.
  • Hazard(s) identification includes all hazards regarding the chemical; required label elements.
  • Composition/information on ingredients includes information on chemical ingredients; trade secret claims.
  • First-aid measures includes important symptoms/ effects, acute, delayed; required treatment.
  • Fire-fighting measures lists suitable extinguishing techniques, equipment; chemical hazards from fire.
  • Accidental release measures lists emergency procedures; protective equipment; proper methods of containment and cleanup.
  • Handling and storage lists precautions for safe handling and storage, including incompatibilities.
  • Exposure controls/personal protection lists OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs); Threshold Limit Values (TLVs); appropriate engineering controls; personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Physical and chemical properties lists the chemical's characteristics.
  • Stability and reactivity lists chemical stability and possibility of hazardous reactions.
  • Toxicological information includes routes of exposure; related symptoms, acute and chronic effects; numerical measures of toxicity.
  • Ecological information*
  • Disposal considerations*
  • Transport information*
  • Regulatory information*
  • Other information, includes the date of preparation or last revision.

Safety Data Sheers can be accessed by

Chemical Labels

The labels of chemical containers (PDF) under new OSHA regulations will be required to have pictograms (PDF), a signal word, hazard and precautionary statements, the product identifier, and supplier identification.

In addition to the OSHA labels, another common hazard communication tool is the NFPA diamond. The four colored regions correspond to a chemical’s Fire (Red), Reactivity/Instability (Yellow), Health (Blue), or "Special" (White) hazards, and the number within a particular region indicates the hazard level associated with that category. A larger number indicates a greater potential hazard. The four regions are always arranged in the same order.

The Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS) is another tool used to communicate the hazards of a material. Much like the NFPA diamond above, HMIS also uses three color-coded fields to indicate the flammability (red), health (blue), and reactivity (yellow) hazards associated with the material. Like the NFPA diamond, numbers in this field also range from 0 to 4, to indicate the severity of hazard, with 0 being the least and 4 being the most hazardous. Differences to note are the layout and that the white section of the HMIS indicates required Personal Protective Equipment required when using the material.


Pace EH&S provides general Hazard Communication training on Classes with access information on this web pageand also live modules by request. Annual training is available online in Classes.

EH&S does not provide specific training for all of the chemicals an employee might be required to use. Hazard Communication training that provides information specific to the hazardous materials used in a specific department must be provided at the departmental level.

Get more information about safety training. As the new OSHA regulation requires all staff working with hazardous materials be trained on the changes in regulation by Dec. 2013, EH&S will be scheduling live modules to meet this requirement. Dates and locations TBD.


If you have questions about the Hazard Communication Standard or Hazard Communication training, please contact your supervisor or EH&S.