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Chemical Safety

OSHA NFPA Best Practices Guide
Free NFPA Diamond Guide

Written by Steve Hudgik

OSHA has estimated that more than 32 million workers are exposed to 650,000 hazardous chemical products in more than three million American workplaces. This poses a serious problem for exposed employers and their employees.

The key to chemical safety in the workplace is that information must be available about the identities and hazards of  chemicals. This type of information is required by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).  The HCS requires both the development and dissemination of information about chemicals.

Chemical Safety - Manufacturers & Importers:

The development of information about hazardous chemicals is done by the chemical manufacturers and importers. They are required to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare material safety data sheets (MSDS) and labels.

Chemical Safety - Workplaces:

All employers that have hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must label the chemical containers and have MSDSs available for their exposed workers. They must also train workers to safely work with and handle the chemicals.

Chemicals pose a wide range of health hazards (such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity) and physical hazards (such as flammability, corrosion, and reactivity). OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures gets to the people who need it.  All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must prepare and implement a written hazard communication program, and must ensure that all containers are labeled, employees are provided access to MSDSs, and an effective training program is conducted for all potentially exposed employees.

The HCS states that people in the workplace have the right-to-know about the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace.  The most effective way of providing right-to-know (RTK) information for chemical safety is through the use of RTK labels.

The following are some commonly asked questions concerning OSHA's requirements for chemical safety and complying with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), sometimes referred to as the OSHA HAZCOM requirements.

Chemical Safety - Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

The OSHA HCS requires that manufacturers and importers create Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all hazardous chemicals they supply. Employers must make these accessible to people in the workplace. Can MSDSs be stored on a computer and still meet the accessibility requirements of HAZCOM?

ANSWER: There are two standards included in OSHA's General Industry Standards that specifically address employee access to MSDSs. They are: 1910.1020, "Access to employee exposure and medical records," and 1910.1200 "Hazard Communication."

Under 1910.1020 the MSDS is considered a record and as per 1910.1020(d)(1)(ii)(B), "need not be retained for any specified period as long as some record of the identity (chemical name if known) of the substance or agent, where it was used, and when it was used is retained for at least thirty (30) years...." Due to the length of time involved, storage of MSDS's as records under 1910.1020 on a computer data base could require special planning in creating and maintaining the database, but it is acceptable. Also, 1910.1020(e) states that  employers must provide access to a record in a reasonable time, place, and manner, but in no event later than 15 days after the request for access is made. This requirement should pose no compliance problem when MSDS are stored on a computer.

However, under 1910.1200(g)(8), the employer must ensure that the MSDSs are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s). 1910.1200(g)(9) reiterates the above and allows MSDSs to be kept in any form.   If the employee's work area includes the area where the MSDSs can be obtained from the computer, then maintaining MSDS on a computer would be in compliance. However, if the MSDSs can only be accessed on a computer outside of the employee's work area(s), then the employer would not be in compliance with 1910.1200(g)(8) or 1910.1200(g)(9).

Chemical Safety - Container Labelingrtk container label

What are the container labeling requirements under the OSHA HAZCOM?  If chemicals are stored in containers on shelves, must the containers be labeled or may just the shelves be labeled?

ANSWER: Under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, the manufacturer or importer is required to label each original container holding hazardous chemicals. Therefore, each container of hazardous chemicals should have a label, that complies with the requirements of this standard, when that container is received.  These containers do not need to be re-labeled in the workplace. If the hazardous chemicals are transferred into unmarked containers (called secondary containers), these containers must be labeled with the required information, unless the container into which the chemical is transferred is intended for the immediate use of the employee who performed the transfer. As stated in paragraph (f)(7) of the rule, "The employer is not required to label portable containers into which hazardous chemicals are transferred from labeled containers, and which are intended only for the immediate use of the employee who performs the transfer."

Section 29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(6) states the following: "The employer may use signs, placards, process sheets, batch tickets, operating procedures, or such written materials in lieu of affixing labels to individual stationary process containers,...."   This means that if chemicals are stored in stationary containers on shelves, in cabinets, or in drawers, they may be identified by labels or signs on the shelves.  However, if the container can be moved, then they are not considered stationary (not capable of being moved) containers. Therefore, each container must have an RTK label.

Chemical Safety - Is An MSDS Needed For Windex and White-Out?

Do you need to keep MSDSs for commercial products such as "Windex" and "White-Out"? What about a hazardous consumer product such as a pesticide?

ANSWER: OSHA does not require MSDSs be provided to purchasers of household consumer products (including pesticides) when the products are used in the workplace in the same manner that a consumer would use them. What this means is that the duration and frequency of use in the workplace (and therefore exposure) is not greater than what the typical consumer would experience. This exemption in OSHA's standards is based on how the product is actually is used in the workplace, not on manufacturer's intended use of the product. Employees who are required to work with hazardous chemicals in a manner that results in a duration and frequency of exposure that is greater than what a normal consumer would experience have a right to know about the properties of those hazardous chemicals.  And thus RTK labels and a readily available MSDS is required.

Free NFPA Diamond Guide for RTK Labels

A complete reference to the RTK Label - NFPA Diamond

If employees use "household products" (including pesticides) in a manner different than how a homeowner would use them, they must get an MSDS for that “household” product.  Section (g)(7) requires that retail sellers, that sell hazardous chemicals to commercial customers, provide an MSDS to their customers upon request.  The MSDS should be readily available to the retail seller. For example, the chemical manufacturer of the pesticide would have to had developed and have available at his manufacturing work site location, the MSDS for his own employees who are exposed to the pesticide during their production. Sharing the MSDS with downstream employers, upon request, meets the intent of the standard.

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unlabeled chemical containers

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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