Managing Chemical Hazard Risks in the Workplace
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
Workplace Safety Division
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Every individual working with or near chemicals must understand the associated risks to avoid injuries. Failure to recognize a chemical hazard puts workers at risk for chemical burns, respiratory problems, fires and explosions. As an employer, it is your job to ensure Safety Data Sheets are readily available to employees in a timely manner. That means you are responsible for not only capturing SDSs as they enter your facility, but also making sure employees are trained and SDSs are accessible, maintained and updated.
If you receive a shipment of chemicals without an SDS, your first step should be to check your SDS management system to see if it might already be there. Chemical manufacturers and distributors are required to send an SDS only with the first shipment or after a significant change has been made to the chemical classification or hazards. If you don’t have the most current SDS in your library for a chemical you use or store in your facility, the onus then falls on you to secure it.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers the following recommendations for effective hazard communication:
- Maintain a Material Safety Data Sheet for every chemical used or stored in the workplace.
- Be sure the MSDS information is accessible to employees at all times and available in languages and formats easily understood by all workers.
- Train employees on how to read and understand SDSs.
- Always follow manufacturers’ recommendations on proper handling and storage of chemicals.
- Provide a spill cleanup kit in areas where chemicals are stored and create a written spill control plan.
- Train employees on how to clean up spills and dispose of materials while protecting themselves.
- Provide all employees with the proper personal protective equipment for their tasks and enforce the use of PPE.
An important requirement of your written hazard communication plan is designating the employee(s) responsible for updating and managing SDSs at your facility. This person should not only record updated SDSs as they arrive but also compare new SDSs to older versions to identify any new hazards on which employees may need to be trained.
Working with chemicals is an inherently dangerous job that could have adverse effects on employee well-being. Fortunately, there are safety measures available to help lessen the risk. By ensuring employees are properly trained, have all the required safety documentation and practice effective hazard communication, employers can create and maintain a safe and healthful workplace. For additional information or guidance regarding hazard communication or SDSs, visit the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center website at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/Workplace/Hazard-Communication.