Some industries involve the transportation, storage and use of dangerous chemicals. Examples include solvents, silica, mercury, lead, formaldehyde and asbestos. Exposure to chemicals such as these poses a wide range of health and safety hazards to workers.

Employers have a responsibility to communicate the hazards associated with certain chemicals to workers, along with instructions for safe handling. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a hazard communications standard to ensure that workers receive the necessary information in a way that is understandable to them.

What hazards do dangerous chemicals pose?

OSHA classifies the wide range of safety hazards posed by certain chemicals into two broad categories. Physical hazards include the ability of a material to explode or catch fire. Health hazards have the ability to cause illnesses such as cancer or symptoms such as acute respiratory distress. Health hazards may either have an instantaneous effect or cause problems over time, while physical hazards tend to pose a more immediate threat.

What is the hazard communication standard?

OSHA requires that all containers holding hazardous or toxic materials carry labels or tags identifying the material and the hazards associated with it. According to the Society for Chemical Hazard Communication, entities that ship containers of such materials must also label them appropriately. Once the containers arrive at the workplace, employers have the option of either applying their own tags/labels or using those that the container came with.

What elements should the labels contain?

To be in accordance with OSHA hazard communication standard, the containers should bear labels with the name of the product, statements about the hazards and the precautions one should take while handling the materials, as well as a pictogram or signal word that gives a general idea of the danger.

However, OSHA does provide employers with some flexibility to communicate effectively with their employees. For example, the hazard communications labels must be in English, but employers also have the option to provide the same information on additional labels written in another language that employees are familiar with.