Washington State University
Environmental Health & Safety EH&S Factsheets

Chemical Safety: Labels and SDSs

General Information

Chemicals can be very useful tools in doing many day-to-day tasks. However, they do pose risks to health and safety. Before using a chemical product, it is important to know:

  • What chemicals are in the products?
  • What are the hazards?
  • What precautions are necessary to use the product safely?
  • What should be done in an emergency?

The Hazard Communication Standard requires that employees have information about the chemicals they are potentially exposed to at work, as well as safe work practices and protective measures to minimize exposure and avoid chemical related injuries and illnesses. Much of that information is included on the container label and in the safety data sheets.

Chemical Container Labeling

Every chemical container must be labeled by the manufacturer or supplier with general information on the potential hazards and how to use the product safely. The label at a minimum must have the: name of the product, name and address of the manufacturer, and the physical and health hazards associated with the product.

Hazard warnings need to reflect physical hazards such as flammability, corrosivity, or reactivity. Health hazards also need to be communicated including specifics on how employees may be affected by chemical exposure.

Never use a chemical from an unlabeled container. If the label is missing or unreadable, report it to your supervisor immediately.

Never remove or deface existing container labels unless the container is immediately labeled with the required information.

Secondary Containers

When a chemical is transferred to a secondary container from the original container, two items must be transferred to the label of the new container: the name of the chemical and the hazard warning.  Therefore, to prevent injury, it is recommended that the chemical identity and hazard warnings be copied verbatim from the original container.
It is also very useful to include the name of the person who transferred the chemical and the date it was transferred on the label.

Employee Training

By law, you have the right to learn about chemicals you work with and how to protect yourself against their dangers. Before you work with any chemical, know:

  • The requirements of the standard;
  • The location of the hazard communication program and SDSs;
  • How to read chemical container labels and SDSs;
  • The identity and location of work process involving chemicals;
  • The physical and health hazards, including the symptoms of overexposure to the chemical;
  • How to safely use the chemical and appropriate protective equipment;
  • How to detect the presence or release of the chemical; and
  • What to do in an emergency, such as an injury or an accidental chemical spill.

The hazard communication standard is the law. If you feel that the rules are not being followed or that you have not been provided adequate information to complete tasks in a safe manner, stop what you are doing and contact your supervisor or EH&S. You do not have to give your name, and all reports will be kept confidential. Never let anyone pressure you to perform duties you feel are unsafe or intimidate you into not reporting your concerns.

Getting Assistance

EH&S is available to assist with interpreting SDSs and determining the safest ways of using chemicals, as well as locating safer chemicals to reduce workplace hazards, selecting proper PPE, and monitoring work environments to determine levels of employee chemical exposures.

EH&S also has available guidelines for conducting hazard assessments and selecting PPE. If respiratory protection is required, contact EH&S to arrange medical evaluation and fit testing.

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Prepared by the chemical manufacturer or supplier, SDSs provide detailed safety and health information not found on container labels. With this information, supervisors/employees can determine necessary controls such as ventilation, work conditions, and procedures for using chemicals safely; as-well-as protective equipment needed to prevent worker contact with hazardous chemicals. SDSs can also be used to compare products available for a particular job to determine which product is the safest to use.

SDSs should be maintained and readily available where ever hazardous chemicals are used or stored. SDSs can be obtained from the chemical manufacturer, from EH&S, and from various web sites. Always be thoroughly familiar with a chemical before using it.

A SDS can be in any format, but it must contain some specific information:

  • The name of the chemical
  • Name, address and phone number for hazard and emergency information
  • Chemical and common names of hazardous ingredients
  • Physical and chemical characteristics, such as the color and form (solid, liquid, etc.)
  • Physical hazards that the chemical can pose under working conditions (flammability, explosiveness, reactions to other chemicals)
  • How the chemical can enter your body
  • How much of a chemical you can be exposed to safely (exposure limits)
  • How the chemical can harm you
  • How to tell if you have been overexposed (dizziness, skin irritation, shortness of breath)
  • How to protect yourself from being exposed, such as personal protective clothing and equipment
  • Chemical handling and safe use
  • Emergency and first aid procedures.