Hazard Communication (Right to Know)
Every individual working with hazardous materials has the right to know what it is they are working with. Whether it is in an art studio, machine shop, maintenance room, or garage, employees should be able to get answers to the following questions:
What is the material?
Where can I find information about this material?
What are the hazards associated with that material?
How do I protect myself from that material?
What do I do in case of an emergency?
This program is based on the requirements of the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard and the State of Wisconsin Employees' Right-to-Know Law. It ensures that:
Chemical, biological, and physical hazards are identified and labeled
All staff has ready access to information regarding these hazards
All staff is given information on how to prevent injury or illness because of exposure to these hazards
4. Hazardous Materials Inventory
5. Chemical Exposure
This site will provide the necessary information to students, faculty, and staff to understand proper hazard communication. Throughout this site, sulfuric acid and acetone will be used as examples to show how each section applies to chemicals that are commonly used.
The written program should be produced and maintained by a Hazard Communication Coordinator. This person may be the head of the department or division, or an individual who has knowledge of the type of chemicals and chemical hazards present in their area. The written program should be available at all times to all employees and kept in an accessible location. If you do not have a written HazCom plan, the Wisconsin Department of Administration has a sample program that you may adopt and revise for your own use.
There are many ways in which hazards can be communicated to individuals. Pictures and symbols are a quick and easy way to convey a message of danger. In 2003, the United Nations developed a universal system for hazard identification called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals or GHS. With this system, a series of pictures and symbols were designated to convey chemical hazards and hazard classes. The GHS pictograms will most likely appear on the manufacturer’s label or on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
Labels may appear on shipping and transportation containers where chemicals are packed. Although most of the pictures are similar, transportation labels also use color so these labels may be seen at a distance. The GHS pictograms may also be used in conjunction with the transportation pictograms.
Sulfuric Acid Acetone
GHS Pictogram GHS Pictogram
Transportation Pictogram Transportation Pictogram
Sulfuric Acid: The GHS shows sulfuric acid as having two hazards, toxic and corrosive. The transportation system only requires one pictogram conveying the corrosive hazard.
Acetone: The GHS shows acetone as having three hazards; flammable, respiratory risk, and irritant. Again, the transportation system only requires one pictogram, this time conveying the flammability hazard.
Although pictures and symbols are a fast and easy way to communicate immediate danger, they do not tell you important information. Chemical names, properties, and personal protective equipment that should be used are missing when pictures and symbols are used as the only source of hazard communication. Upon seeing a picture or symbol indicating danger, one should look for more information about that product.
Hazard Communication stickers are available to print at your convenience by clicking here.
Like the pictures and symbols, key words and phrases are used to communicate quick, yet vague information regarding a chemical’s danger. Often, key words will accompany the pictures, but on smaller labels and packaging, there may not be enough room for both. Although the words and phrases may be vague, they can offer more information than a symbol. Examples of key words and phrases can be seen here. Words and phrases along with pictures are very helpful, but again, information is missing and one should continue to search for more specific information.
Example: Sulfuric Acid
When words accompany the pictograms, the dangers become easier to understand. Although the toxic symbol is present, it is still unclear how this material is toxic. With the hazard statements, we now see that it may be harmful if swallowed and fatal if inhaled. We also see that there are impacts to aquatic life if this material is released to the environment.
The pictures tell us that the material is flammable, may cause internal damage and is an irritant. Again, we get more specific information about this material through the hazard statement. We find out that both the liquid and vapor are flammable, irritation may be caused to the eyes and skin, and inhalation may cause damage to organs.
The NFPA 704 system provides a readily recognized, easily understood system for identifying specific hazards. This system uses spatial, visual, and numerical methods to describe relative hazards of a material. It addresses the health, flammability, instability, and related hazards that may be presented as a result of fire, spill, or similar emergency.
The NFPA 704 Diamond identifies the following hazards of chemicals.
Each hazard class is ranked to indicate the degree of hazard.
Click on any of the hazard characteristics above for more specific information on the degree of each hazard.
The special hazards section does not use numbers, but symbols to communicate hazards. The only symbols authorized by the NFPA are , which indicates a reaction when in contact with water, and OX, which indicates that the material is an oxidizer.
People may put other symbols in this area such as ACID, ALK, CORR, or even the radiation symbol. These symbols are not necessary because the hazards are already accounted for in the health rating.
The Milwaukee Fire Department requires an NFPA Diamond on the door of a shop or studio if that area contains chemicals. When creating an NFPA Diamond, you must consider all hazardous materials in the area, noting the most severe hazard rating from each one.
NFPA Diamond for Sulfuric Acid NFPA Diamond for Acetone
NFPA Diamond for door of room containing Sulfuric Acid and Acetone
If a chemical or hazardous material does not have an NFPA Diamond on the label, you may be asked to apply one to the container (if no other hazard information is available) and/or the cabinet that it is being kept. At times, the packaging may have the hazard ratings already in place, just not in diamond form. In other cases, you may need to consult the manufacturer’s MSDS to obtain NFPA ratings or other information to help formulate the ratings.
Existing systems for labeling hazardous materials may present different information for the same product. This may lead to confusion as to how to handle and work with the material. With the GHS labeling format, this confusion should be eliminated.
Hazardous materials delivered to the user in supplied or manufacturer containers are required to have the following elements on the label under the GHS format.
Signal Words (Danger or Warning)
Hazard Statement (Physical, Health, or Environmental)
Precautionary Statement and Pictograms (First Aid included in this statement)
Below is an example of the GHS labeling format.
Manufacturer’s labels should not be removed, defaced, or tampered with unless that container is emptied of its original contents. If that container is used as a secondary or portable container, the original label must be completely removed or covered. Simply putting an X through the label or crossing out information is not enough. When labeling, the secondary containers must include the Product Identifier and a combination of words, pictures, or symbols that provide general information about the chemical hazards. Those working with the secondary container must also have immediate access to more specific information (MSDS) not on the container such as the physical and health hazards
Below is an example of a secondary container now filled with Acetone
The Milwaukee Fire Department deems it necessary to label all areas that contain hazardous materials with an NFPA Diamond (with appropriate ratings). As a service to the UWM community, University Safety and Assurances has developed the Laboratory/Shop/Studio Signage Program. This is an easy and convenient way to communicate hazards of a lab, shop, or studio in one sign. If your area contains hazardous materials, please see the Laboratory/Shop/Studio Signage Program web site to create your area specific sign.
Material Safety Data Sheets may be the most important tool in hazard communication. Most, if not all, of the information mentioned above can be found in an MSDS. This information can be found in sections seen below.
Product and Company Identification
Composition/Information on Ingredients
Accidental Release Measures
Handling and Storage
Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
Physical and Chemical Properties
Stability and Reactivity
Please note that information from each manufacturer may differ, and so may their MSDSs. However, with the initiation of the GHS, this information should be more consistent.
MSDSs of all hazardous materials must be available to all employees who may come in contact with those materials. Contact your supervisor if you would like to see a product’s MSDS.
Because an MSDS must be provided in an emergency situation, you should have quick and easy access to your MSDS library. It is recommended that in addition to having hard (paper) copies, an MSDS web page should be bookmarked to a computer with printer access. Please see the Chemical Exposure section below for instructions on what to do in the event of a chemical spill or release.
Manufacturers and distributors are responsible for providing MSDSs for their products. The same material may have different precautions depending on concentration or formula. Because of this, it is always best to consult the MSDS of the exact product you are using.
Example: Click on each MSDS picture to view the complete document.
Sulfuric Acid MSDS Acetone MSDS
The Hazard Communication Coordinator is responsible for compiling, maintaining, and updating a master list of hazardous substances used or produced in their department or area. The inventory should include the chemical or trade name of the product and the name of the manufacturer. Additional informational headings may be used to assist with chemical tracking. The inventory should be able to be sorted for ease of finding information- alphabetically by chemical name is recommended. If you do not currently have an inventory system, you may use this form and save it to your computer. There is also a form included in the Wisconsin Department of Administration sample program on page 10.
If a hazardous material is released in your area, immediate action should be taken to protect yourself and others. There are three methods used to detect a hazardous material release:
Relying on your vision is a safe and practical method of hazardous material release detection. Seeing a container spill, liquid pooled on the floor, or fumes or smoke coming from an area are clues that a material has spilled and your supervisor (and possibly Campus Police) should be notified.
Odor is another simple, yet dangerous, way to detect a release. It is dangerous because if you smell a hazardous material, it has already entered your body. Some solvents, acids, cleaners, and gases have a distinct odor that is noticeable when open to the air. Smelling chemical odors that seem stronger than normal or that are not usually present should result in notifying your supervisor and Campus Police immediately.
Using an air monitor is very useful for detecting odorless, invisible material, usually gases. If you have concerns that an area you are working in may experience a material release that requires monitoring, you should contact University Safety and Assurances before working with that material.
Hazardous materials may enter the body through four different routes of exposure:
Inhalation occurs when chemical fumes, mists, dusts or gases are breathed in through the nose or mouth. The inhaled chemical is then absorbed through the tissue and membranes in the nose, trachea, and lungs. Tissues in these areas are not very protective against chemical exposure, thus are at greater risk.
Absorption occurs when a hazardous material enters the body through the skin or eyes. Skin tissue is more protective than lung tissue, but is not an impermeable barrier. Some materials may be absorbed more readily by the skin than others, and once the material is absorbed, it is carried throughout the body in the bloodstream.
Ingestion occurs when chemical fumes, mists, and dusts enter the body through the mouth and swallowed. Hazardous material is commonly ingested when contaminated food or hands come in contact with the mouth.
Injection occurs when contaminated sharp objects puncture the skin, introducing hazardous material to the bloodstream. Improperly stored or disposed needles increase this exposure risk. Using a dust pan and broom to clean up broken glass, dropped needles or any other sharp object decreases the risk of injury. Never place any sharp objects directly in the waste basket.
When exposed to hazardous material, there may be two kinds of health effects to the body, acute and chronic.
Acute health effects are characterized by sudden and severe exposure and rapid absorption of a material. An example would be a chemical burn. If sulfuric acid is spilled on your arm, you will experience a burn within moments of exposure.
Chronic health effects are characterized by prolonged and repeated exposure over a longer period of time. An example would be lead poisoning. If you are exposed to lead particles, you may not notice any health effects for some time. However, repeated exposure may cause lead poisoning over time. Chronic health effects may result in cancer.
Toxicity is the ability for a material to cause a harmful effect. Please understand that everything is toxic, even water. However, one must drink a lot of water in order for it to be harmful. The amount of a material you are exposed to or come in contact with is called a dose. The less toxic a substance is (water) the greater dose you can tolerate without ill effects. The more toxic a substance (cyanide) the less of a dose you can tolerate before you become ill.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not possible or effective in doing so. The appropriate PPE to use when working with a hazardous material should be noted in the MSDS or other resources (NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, etc.). Be sure to check the MSDS and with your supervisor before you begin working with such a material. If you use the wrong PPE, it will have no effect on reducing exposure and you may be at risk for injury or illness. You may also want to consult the campus Personal Protective Equipment web page.
In an emergency, call the Campus Police at x9911 from a building phone, (414) 229-9911 from your cell phone, or by pressing the red button on the S.A.F.E phone.
If exposure occurs, the procedures that should be followed depend on toxicity of the material, dose, and route of exposure. Everyone working with hazardous material should know the location of the nearest eyewash and safety shower station.
If a material is exposed to the eyes or face, immediately proceed to the eyewash station and call for help if working with others. Rinse your eyes and face for 15 minutes. Although it may be uncomfortable, you should keep your eyes open (force them if necessary) so water can wash behind the eyelids. While you are rinsing, another person should be looking up the MSDS to see if further steps or medical attention is needed.
If a material is exposed to the body, proceed immediately to a safety shower or drench hose if necessary. Remove affected clothing and rinse the area for 15 minutes. Again, another person should be consulting the MSDS to see if further steps or medical attention needs to be taken.
If a material is inhaled making breathing difficult, move to an open air area. If you notice that someone has become unconscious, move that person to fresh air (ONLY IF SAFE TO DO SO) and call Campus Police.
Anyone working with hazardous materials should have a spill kit available. The spill kit should be customized to fit the hazards of your area.
There are two types of chemical spills, minor spills and major spills
Minor spills consist of a small amount of hazardous material that you are familiar with. This material, although hazardous, is not extremely dangerous and can be cleaned up if the proper clean-up material and personal protective equipment are available. You should only clean up a minor spill if you feel comfortable doing so. The clean-up material should be considered hazardous waste and be disposed of properly. Always let your supervisor know of a spill.
Major spills consist of a large quantity of a hazardous material, a material that is extremely dangerous, a mixing of two chemicals that may cause a reaction, or unknown chemicals. Do not attempt to clean up a major spill. You should clear the area (possibly the building) and call University Police.
Detailed procedures for handling minor and major spills can be found on the Chemical Spill Response web page.
Prior to working with hazardous materials, each employee must complete Hazard Communication Training. Through this site and links associated with this site, employees should understand hazard communication well enough to successfully complete the training quiz below. This site provides general information about the UWM Hazard Communication Program including:
Policies and procedures related to the Hazard Communication Standard
How to read and interpret an MSDS
Methods and observation techniques to determine the presence or release of hazardous chemicals
How to prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances
Personal protective equipment
Procedures to follow if exposure occurs
Emergency response procedures for a hazardous chemical spill
Employees should receive additional training from their supervisor or Hazard Communication Coordinator on area specific topics such as:
Location of the written Hazard Communication Program
Location of MSDSs
Physical and health hazards of hazardous substances in their work area
Work practices that may result in exposure
This training quiz will open in a new window so you may navigate this site while taking the quiz. In order for you to get credit for the training, you must answer all 25 questions correctly. If you do not get all of the questions correct, you may hit the back arrow on the bottom of the quiz to take it again. Once all 25 questions are correct, you may submit the quiz by hitting the forward arrow at the bottom of the quiz.