Hazard Communication Duties and Responsibilities

January 2, 2023

Hazard Communication Standards

Employees need to know how to work safely with and around hazardous chemicals. Employers are required to provide training so employees know what they’re working with, how it could harm them, and how to protect themselves.​

“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”​ (OSHA).

Safety Data Sheets

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are a reference tool created by hazardous chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors. They include standardized hazard warnings and precautions regarding the hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. 

Safety data sheets are the best sources of hazard communication when it comes to detailed information about the chemicals in your workplace. SDSs are an essential part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS is a set of international guidelines for ensuring the safe production, transportation, handling, use, and disposal of hazardous chemicals. 

SDSs help to identify the product and describe any physical or environmental hazards of the chemical. They list protective measures you can take when using, storing, or transporting the chemical. Safety data sheets also provide guidance on how to respond to various emergency situations and how to administer first aid. All SDSs follow the same 16-section format.

#1 Identification

The first section of the safety data sheet identifies the chemicals, describes their intended use, and shows common names of the chemical. This section also requires manufacturer and distributor information such as:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Emergency phone

All of the information given in this section must match the information that appears on the container label.

#2 Hazard Identification

The second section of the safety data sheets warns you of all of the risks that are associated with the specific chemical. In case of mixtures, this section should also disclose the percentage amount that consists of a mixed ingredient with unknown toxicity. 

Signal words are used to establish the severity of the hazard of a chemical. This section must list the signal word for each chemical. Only two signal words are used. “Danger” is used for immediate hazards and “Warning” is used for less severe hazards. Other information that can be found in this section would include:

  • Hazard classification
  • Hazard statements
  • Pictograms
  • Precautionary statements
  • Description of unclassified hazards

#3 Information on Ingredients

This section of an SDS should tell you exactly what the product or chemical is made up of, including any impurities or stabilizing additives. This is extremely important because stabilizing additives have their own classification outside of the chemical’s usual classification. But the additives also contribute towards the chemicals’ new classification. Other required information that will be discovered in this section would be:

If the product is a mixture of chemicals, the SDS will list the concentration of all ingredients by percentages or weight.

#4 First Aid Measures

In the fourth section you will find all the information necessary if there were an emergency situation that included the chemical. This information should include a list of symptoms and effects, both immediate and long term. First aid instructions will be included for any of the following exposure situations:

  • Inhalation
  • Skin contact
  • Eye contact
  • Ingestion

In this section you will also find recommendations for immediate medical care and special treatment as well as when it is necessary. 

#5 Firefighting Measures

This part of an SDS outlines what to do in case of a fire caused by the chemical. The required information in this section is:

  • What is and is not appropriate extinguishing equipment
  • Advice on specific hazards that develop from the chemical during the fire
  • Special equipment and precautions for firefighters

#6 Accidental Release Measures

Should the chemical be spilled, leaked, or released in any other way, this section in the safety data sheet will tell you how to respond. Required information includes emergency procedures, appropriate clean-up techniques, personal protective equipment (PPE), and contaminants methods. 

#7 Handling and Storing

The seventh section of a SDS provides guidelines for safely handling and storing these chemicals. It also tells you how to handle the chemicals when it comes to minimizing the release into the environment. General hygiene information as well as conditions for safe storage, specific storage needs, and storage incompatibilities can also be included.

The manufacturer should include an explanation of both safe and unsafe storage conditions. Improper storage could allow incompatible chemicals to mix, producing an undesired and potentially dangerous reaction.​

#8 Exposure Controls and Personal Protection

This section is specifically designed to help you avoid personal exposure to the chemical. It has guidelines for personal protection and exposure. It lists the maximum amount of personal exposure that is considered safe when it comes to both quantity and period of time. It also provides you with protective measures that should be used to safely handle the chemical.

When it comes to personal protection, this section has information such as:

  • Appropriate engineering controls
  • Personal protective equipment 
  • Any special materials or resistant requirements for PPE

When it comes to exposure, section eight will provide you with information on limits such as:

  • OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)
  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH)
  • Threshold Limit Values (TLVs)
  • Any other limit recommendations that are specific to the substance

#9 Physical and Chemical Properties

This section is where the chemical characteristics are listed on the SDS. The minimum required fields will include:

  • Appearance
  • Auto
  • Decomposition temperature
  • Evaporation rate
  • Flammability
  • Flash point
  • Initial boiling point and boiling range
  • Melting point and freezing point 
  • Odor and odor threshold
  • Partition coefficient: n-octanol/water
  • pH
  • Relative Density
  • Solubility
  • Upper and lower flammability or explosive limits
  • Vapor density and pressures
  • Viscosity

#10 Stability and Reactivity

This section tells you how stable the chemical is and also the likelihood of any hazardous reactions. The information within this section is separated into three clear subsections. 

  1. Specific test data for the chemical, class or family.
  2. Chemical stability – whether the chemical, at room temperature, is stable while in storage and while being handled. Also any stabilizers that may be needed and any changes in physical appearance that indicate safety issues. This section may also provide a description of any stabilizers that you might need to maintain the chemical stability of the product.
  3. Chemical reactivity – the possibility of hazardous reactions, conditions to avoid, incompatible materials and any known or anticipated hazardous decomposition products that could be a product of use, storage, or heating. 

#11 Toxicological Information

This section of SDS provides you with any health risks that are associated with poisoning from the chemical. Other information will include:

  • Routes of exposure
  • Related symptoms
  • Acute and chronic health effects
  • Numerical measures of toxicity
  • Whether or not the chemical is considered carcinogenic 

#12 Ecological Information

Section 12 provides information that is helpful for evaluating the environmental impact of the chemicals if they were released into the environment. This may include data from toxicity tests performed on plants, fish, and wildlife. This section also addresses the chemical’s ability to biodegrade, the likelihood of it moving into groundwater, and any other effects on the environment.​

#13 Disposal Considerations

This section tells you how to safely dispose of, recycle, or reclaim the chemical and its container. Some examples include:

  • Appropriate disposal containers
  • Disposal methods
  • Physical and chemical properties that may affect disposal
  • Language discouraging sewal disposal 

#14 Transport Information

The fourteenth section in an SDS provides information for shipping and transportation of hazardous chemicals by road, air, rail, or seas. Other information includes:

  • Transport hazard classes
  • Packing group number
  • Environmental hazards
  • Special precautions

#15 Regulatory Information

This section will include any additional safety, health, and environmental regulations that are not indicated anywhere else on the safety data sheet. 

#16 Other Information

This section is purely for communicating when the most recent update was made along with any other useful information not included in the other sections of the SDS. Other information could be:

  • When the SDS was prepared
  • Last known revisions date
  • Where and when any changes were made

Chemical-Related Hazards in the Workplace

When working with or around chemicals in your workplace there are many different health hazards to look out for. There are two categories that most chemical-related health hazards can be divided into.

  • Chemical health hazards
  • Physicochemical hazards

Chemical Health Hazards 

Chemical hazards are any health hazards that come from the composition of the chemicals themselves. This would be things such as:

  • Skin irritants
  • Carcinogens
  • Agents that act on hematopoietic system
  • Respiratory sensitisers

There are many different chemicals that can cause these health issues. Depending on your place of work, there are chemicals that are specific to your workplace and are not commonly found in others. But there are also many chemicals that are very common and can be found in most chemical-handling workplaces. Some examples of common hazardous chemicals are:

  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Benzene
  • Chromium

Physicochemical Hazards

Physicochemical Hazards are physical or chemical properties of the substance, mixture, or article that pose other-than-health risks to workers. Physicochemical hazards which would consist of things such as:

  • Chemical explosions and fire
  • Corrosion
  • Chemical reactions

General Responsibilities

Both employees and employers have responsibilities when it comes to hazard communications. Some responsibilities are more specific to the task, general job type, or work site. But there are also general responsibilities that correspond with every job that involves transporting, handling, storing, and using chemicals. Everyone has a part to play when it comes to hazard communication compliance. 

Employee Communication Duties

Employees have the responsibility to follow all safety procedures, including wearing proper safety equipment and completing appropriate training. Employees also have the responsibility of identifying and communicating information about worksite specific chemical hazards and ensuring appropriate labeling of chemical containers. When a hazard is identified or an incident has taken place, employees are responsible for reporting it to their supervisor or employer.  

When it comes to the safety data sheets, employees are responsible for consulting the SDS before using or working around any type of chemical. It is important for employees to read and understand the SDS in order to use chemicals safely in the workplace.​ 

Employer Duties

Employers are responsible for their employees. An accident prevention plan starts with safety training, protective equipment, and ongoing communication. Employers that have hazardous chemicals in their workplace are required to develop and implement an effective hazard communication plan. 

OSHAs Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires all employers to provide information and training to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they might be exposed to. This training is required when any employee first begins their job along with anytime a new hazard is introduced into their workplace. 

In regards to responsibilities that correspond with safety data sheets, employers are responsible for gathering SDSs for all hazardous chemicals that employees use or are exposed to in the workplace. Employers also need to make sure this information is complete, current, and readily accessible to all employees during each work shift. Employers are required to train their employees on how to read, update, and understand SDSs. ​

What is a Hazard Communication Plan?

A hazard communication plan is a written program that includes procedures regarding labels on chemical containers, safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals, and safety training for employees. An online safety training consutant such as Safety Provisions, Inc. is a great asset to ensure proper safety training and certification. The goal of hazard communication (or HazCom) is to make sure employees understand what hazardous chemicals and products are present at their workplace. 

As discussed previously, employers are responsible for developing and implementing a hazard communication program for their employees. An employer can create and establish an effective HazCom program by utilizing the following six steps. 

#1 – Learn the Standard

Learn the safety standards for hazard communication and identify responsible employees for particular tasks. Make sure someone has primary responsibility for coordinating implementation. 

#2 – Prepare a Written Safety Program

Your program should detail how hazard communication will be addressed in the workplace. You will need to prepare a list of all hazardous chemicals. The program must specify the safety procedures for labeling, maintaining SDSs, and providing employee information.

#3 – Ensure Containers are Labeled

Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels on shipped containers with:

  • A product identifier
  • Signal word
  • Pictograms
  • Hazard statement 
  • Precautionary statement 
  • Contact information for the responsible party

#4 – Maintain the Safety Data Sheets

Safety data sheets are required for each hazardous chemical in the workplace and must be accessible to employees at all times. They also must follow GHS guidelines for the 16-section format.

#5 – Inform and Train Employees

As discussed before, employers are responsible for training their employees on the hazardous chemicals in the work area. The training that is provided must be in a language and vocabulary employees can understand. Workers must be made aware of protective measures available in their workplace. 

#6 – Evaluate and Reassess 

Revise your program to address any changed conditions such as new chemicals and new hazards. OSHA requires that the Hazard Communication Program remains current and up-to-date.