Hazard Communication

Hazardous Materials

Why does hazard communication matter? We don’t know, what we don’t know…and we can’t communicate, what we don’t know. To safely use hazardous chemicals in the workplace, take the time to learn about them. Then, communicate the information to your employees.

Three important information sources help you protect your employees and yourself from hazardous chemicals.

1.) An MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheet is your “Right to Know” about chemicals. 

2.) “GHS” Global Harmonizing System is a set of guidelines for the world to know about the chemicals they use from other parts of the world.

3.) “SDS”  Safety Data Sheets,  is a way for us to use both methods in a form that we can understand about what we are exposed to and the potentials for safe use of chemicals in the workplace.  

Getting to know your business and the chemicals you use–either through purchasing or creation– helps you understand the hazards employees face every day. For many years the Material Safety Data Sheet system (MSDS) has existed to do just that: to tell us what we don’t know about a chemical and provide us with necessary information. This lets us apply certain controls to our processes and procedures, ensuring minimal risk to people, product and property. The MSDS is the heart of hazard communication.

The Process and Procedures Necessary for Safety 

Because what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you or other co-workers, gain knowledge and uncover the true nature of the chemicals and the way people use them. Learn how to safely store them and dispose of them. If you take the time to understand and organize the information, you can create many successful processes and procedures that just need attention and respect to work. 

Audit and Inventory your Chemicals

Commit to finding and inventorying all of the chemicals in your organization: cans, tubes, bottles, buckets, pipelines, vats, tanks etc. This inventory serves several purposes. First, it meets the safety requirement of having such a list. Second, it provides worksheet to keep track of all the chemicals you have. Furthermore, creating a list provides you with knowledge of the locations, amounts and how certain chemicals are being used and stored. Finally, a list provides you with a method of collection that allows you to alphabetize and organize the data for quick reference.

Discover and Record the Composition of Each Chemical

The inventory, when complete, will give you an idea of how much and where these chemicals are and sets you up for the next step: Discovery. To discover information about chemicals, find the Material Safety Data Sheets from a supplier, distributor, online service or supplier/ distributors website. Sometimes just a good ole’ fashion phone call can help you get it done. Collect data in a hard copy form or electronically. Once received, read and understand what each sheet is telling you and make provisions for labeling at your location. Finally, make exposure records available to employees and monitor as needed certain atmospheres if required to do so. Be transparent, letting the employees understand the hazards.  

Your location or business unit needs a written Hazard Communication Program which communicates to all about the safe working practices around chemicals at your company. Check out the www.osha.gov website for more information and get the plan basics to help you develop one that works. Once you have all the information and the data, train your employees. Train to the OSHA standards 29CFR 1910.1200. Make sure everyone understands how to get the information, when to notify someone regarding missing information etc. A trained workforce is a strong workforce. Need help? Call the National Safety Education Center at 815-753-6902.

Work Together

Get your employees involved. Give them micro tasks such as inventory taking. Ask them to tell you how their process works and where things are stored and how much is stored. Ask them how much they have of a particular chemical and why. Working together builds a better understanding of what we don’t know, and what we need to understand.  As we work together, we maximize the benefits of good hazard communication.


The National Safety Education Center (NSEC) is one of 26 OSHA Training Institute Education Centers in the nation. These education centers are a national network of non-profit organizations authorized by OSHA to deliver occupational safety and health training to public and private sector workers, supervisors and employers. Our partnership, which consists of Northern Illinois University and the Construction Safety Council, allows us to teach courses in OSHA’s Region V (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin). For more information, visit www.nsec.niu.edu

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