Right to Know About Hazardous Chemicals
You work with chemicals in your job every day. Do you know
the names of the chemicals without looking at the labels?
Do you know how to handle and store them safely without risking
potentially dangerous exposure to them: What would happen
to you if you were overexposed to these chemicals?
Any worker who doesn't know the answers to these
questions is at risk of serious harm. That's why the hazard
communication standard-also known as the "right-to-know"
law-was established by OSHA. It requires employers to provide
their employees with detailed information and training on
the chemicals they work with.
The information is provided to you in three ways:
(1)labels on the containers of chemicals, (2) a material
safety data sheet (MSDS) for each chemical in use at the worksite-maintained
in an easily accessible location, and (3) extensive training
sessions on the chemicals you use on your job and how to protect
yourself from being harmed by them.
Always read the label on the container of a hazardous
chemical. It can provide you with a lot of very useful information,
such as the name of the chemical you are using and any warnings
describing its dangerous properties-for example, Warning -
Highly Flammable! It may also provide handling and storage
information, precautions for using the chemical (e.g., "use
only in a ventilated area") and first-aid information
on what to do if you are exposed to the chemical.
The material safety data sheets contain more detailed
information than the labels. You should make yourself familiar
with this information before you begin working with the chemicals.
You can also refer to the sheets if there is a problem, such
as a leakage or spill.
These MSDS's can be written in a highly technical
language. It is therefore important to understand some of
the terminology that is used.
Acute or chronic effects: A chemical that
is acutely toxic can injure you after a single exposure, while
other chemicals will harm you after repeated or prolonged
Route of entry: How a chemical gets into
you body-through inhaling, swallowing, skin absorption, etc.
The route of entry will determine what personal protective
equipment you should use when handling the substance.
Local or systemic reaction: When you are
exposed to a toxic chemical, you can experience one or both
of these reactions. A local reaction will occur at the site
of the exposure, such as irritations or damage to the skin,
eyes, or lungs. When chemicals enter the bloodstream through
the skin, eyes, mouth, or lungs, your entire body can be damaged.
This is known as a systemic reaction. The damage can be immediate
Target organs: Organs in your body that
are damaged by a systemic reaction to a hazardous chemical,
such as the liver, heart, kidneys, and others.
Permissible exposure limit (PEL): This
measurement will tell you the average amount of a chemical
that you can safely be exposed to over an 8-hour period.
Compatibility: Toward the bottom of every
MSDS is a section that describes what chemicals the material
should not be mixed with. For example, chlorine bleach mixed
with ammonia can cause an extremely toxic gas. If you have
any questions about the chemical terminology, check with your
Make sure you have completed all the necessary
training on the specific chemicals in your workplace. Know
all the emergency procedures that should be used in case of
an accidental spill or exposure.
Important point: If you don't know, ask!
Never start a job without knowing the properties and hazards
of the chemical(s) you're working with.
The following general precautions should be used
around all chemicals:
. Never eat, drink, or smoke around chemicals
in the work area.
. Keep flammable and explosive material away
from any heat sources.
. Make sure there is enough ventilation in
the work area. If you feel the slightest amount of dizziness
or nausea, report the incident immediately to your supervisor.
. Use the proper personal protective equipment.
This may include gloves, safety glasses, masks, respirators,
and work clothes depending on the type of chemicals you are
using. Keep all equipment clean and report any damage.
. Know how to properly dispose of all contaminated
. Always use established procedures for handling,
storing, or transporting hazardous chemicals.
As you can see, the "right-to-know"
regulation provides you with a lot of information. It's up
to you to seek out that information and use it for your own