Safeguarding Workers from Hazardous Chemicals

Hazardous chemicals are used everywhere. Even household cleaning supplies contain things that aren’t considered friendly. 

Every employee has the right to know what chemicals are used around them and have ways to protect themselves. 

This article offers some different perspectives of how to safeguard you and your employees against exposure to hazardous chemicals.

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NOTE: The information presented in this story is intended for general discussion only.  These recommendations should not be used for compliance purposes.

Hazardous Chemicals Defined

So what is a Hazardous Chemical?  According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA),  a ‘hazardous chemical’ is defined as any chemical which can cause a physical or health hazard.  On their website, OSHA offers a list of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, Toxics, and Reactives to point out the heavy hitters, but this broad definition could even include things you store beneath your sink. 

How Are You Exposed?

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that protects human health from the effects of contaminants and hazardous substances.  The ATSDR outlines three ways exposure can occur:

  • Touching- Which includes contact with your skin, entering your bloodstream through small cracks and cuts on your hands, or contact with your eyes.
  • Inhalation- Where contaminants enter the lungs and can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Ingestion- When food, drinks, or residual amounts of chemicals on hands, clothing or hair are absorbed by the digestive system.

The best practice is to know what chemicals are being used and to be aware of the side effects and warning signs of exposure.  By wearing proper personal protective equipment and educating yourself and your workers, you can avoid a potential injury or death.

A Global Perspective

For a different perspective, let’s look to the World Health Organization (WHO).  The WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for the United Nations that helps provide leadership for global health matters.  In a detailed Technical Hazard Sheet on Chemical Incidents, the WHO provides an in-depth interpretation and definition of a ‘chemical incident’ some steps to safeguard facilities from accidents and intentional hazardous chemical exposure.

The WHO recommends using education, regular monitoring, and proper labeling of all vessels and storage areas that contain hazardous chemicals. Now that we have explained the ways you can be exposed and some general safeguards, the next step is to describe some ways to label hazardous chemicals properly for transport and storage.

Labeling and Marking Hazardous Chemicals

Providing accurate information is vital to ensure that your employees and visitors are properly warned and protected against the chemicals you store and use at your facility. 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides guidance and detailed information to help identify chemical hazards.  Employees and emergency response personnel need to know this valuable health, fire, reactivity, and specific hazard information.  These labels and/or signs need to be included on all hazardous chemical vessels and storage containers and should be easy to read from a safe distance.

Based on the NFPA Code 704M* and Federal Standard 313 (FED-STD-313), Stonehouse Signs offers HAZMAT Classification Placards and Right-To-Know Wallet Cards to help identify chemical hazards.

HAZMAT Classification Placards

Stonehouse Signs HAZMAT Classification Placards

HAZMAT Signal Kits(1)

Stonehouse Signs HMS Signal Kits

Wallet Cards

Stonehouse Signs NFPA Right To Know Wallet Cards

(1)   Each Kit contains sufficient materials for one complete signal.  Numeral panels are furnished with black numerals on a red, blue, or yellow pressure sensitive background.  Symbol Panels are furnished with black symbols on a white pressure-sensitive vinyl background. 

OSHA’s Perspective & Standard Stonehouse Signs Safety Signs Available for Hazardous Chemicals & Materials

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires employers to protect workers from exposure to hazardous materials.  In addition to worker protection, OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) or Right-To-Know, outlines specific standards for labeling, and educating employees about hazardous chemicals they may come into contact with in the workplace. 

The signs below include chemicals that are listed on OSHA’s  List of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, Toxics and Reactives, and some general safety messages.  Don’t forget to use our Change It Up program to include any chemical name you may require!

Stonehouse Signs Danger Chemical Storage Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Hazardous Chemical Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Toxic Chemical Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Formaldehyde Contaminated Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Chlorine Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Ammonia Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Nitrogen Sign

Stonehouse Signs Danger Hydrochloric Acid Sign


Listed below are excerpts from OSHA's Hazard Communication Standards related to identification and labeling.  For the complete standard, please follow the link.

1910.1200  Hazard Communication Standard (HCS)

1910.1200(b) "Scope and application."


This section requires chemical manufacturers or importers to assess the hazards of chemicals which they produce or import, and all employers to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed, by means of a hazard communication program, labels and other forms of warning, material safety data sheets, and information and training.  In addition, this section requires distributors to transmit the required information to employers.  (Employers who do not produce or import chemicals need only focus on those parts of this rule that deal with establishing a workplace program and communicating information to their workers.  Appendix E of this section is a general guide for such employers to help them determine their compliance obligations under the rule.)


Employers shall maintain any material safety data sheets that are received with incoming shipments of hazardous chemicals, and ensure that they are readily accessible during each workshift to laboratory employees when they are in their work areas.


Laboratory employers that ship hazardous chemicals are considered to be either a chemical manufacturer or a distributor under this rule, and thus must ensure that any containers of hazardous chemicals leaving the laboratory are labeled in accordance with paragraph (f)(1) of this section, and that a material safety data sheet is provided to distributors and other employers in accordance with paragraphs (g)(6) and (g)(7) of this section.

1910.1200(f) "Labels and other forms of warning."


The chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked with the following information:

1910.1200(f)(1)(i) Identity of the hazardous chemical(s);

1910.1200(f)(1)(ii) Appropriate hazard warnings; and

1910.1200(f)(1)(iii) Name and address of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.


Chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked in accordance with this section in a manner which does not conflict with the requirements of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) and regulations issued under that Act by the Department of Transportation.


If the hazardous chemical is regulated by OSHA in a substance-specific health standard, the chemical manufacturer, importer, distributor or employer shall ensure that the labels or other forms of warning used are in accordance with the requirements of that standard.


Except as provided in paragraphs (f)(6) and (f)(7) of this section, the employer shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with the following information:

1910.1200(f)(5)(i) Identity of the hazardous chemical(s) contained therein; and,


Appropriate hazard warnings, or alternatively, words, pictures, symbols, or combination thereof, which provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemicals, and which, in conjunction with the other information immediately available to employees under the hazard communication program, will provide employees with the specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical.


The employer may use signs, placards, process sheets, batch tickets, operating procedures, or other such written materials in lieu of affixing labels to individual stationary process containers, as long as the alternative method identifies the containers to which it is applicable and conveys the information required by paragraph (f)(5) of this section to be on a label.  The written materials shall be readily accessible to the employees in their work area throughout each work shift.

1910.1200(h)  "Employee information and training."


Employers shall provide employees with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new physical or health hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area.  Information and training may be designed to cover categories of hazards (e.g., flammability, carcinogenicity) or specific chemicals.  Chemical-specific information must always be available through labels and material safety data sheets.

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