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Page last reviewed: 11/30/2009
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Hazardous and Toxic Substances

Hazardous and toxic substances are defined as those chemicals present in the workplace which are capable of causing harm. In this definition, the term chemicals includes dusts, mixtures, and common materials such as paints, fuels, and solvents. OSHA currently regulates exposure to approximately 400 substances. The OSHA Chemical Sampling Information file contains listings for approximately 1500 substances; the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Substances Inventory lists information on more than 62,000 chemicals or chemical substances; some libraries maintain files of material safety data sheets (MSDS) for more than 100,000 substances.

It is not possible to address the hazards associated with each of these chemicals in this safety and health topics page, however, the following information is relevant to many hazardous and toxic substances in the workplace.

Exposures to hazardous and toxic substances are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, and the construction industry.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to hazardous and toxic substances.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Many workers are unaware of chemicals that create potential hazards in their work environment, making them more vulnerable to exposure and injury. The following references aid in recognizing hazards associated with hazardous and toxic substances.

  • Hazardous Chemicals in Labs. OSHA Fact Sheet, (2002). Also available as a 253 KB PDF, 2 pages. Discusses OSHA's Laboratory standard and the unique problems associated with laboratory use of hazardous chemicals.

  • Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines. OSHA Publication 2254, (Revised 1998). Also available as a 720 KB PDF, 110 pages.

  • Hydrogen Sulfide. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides information on how hydrogen sulfide can affect your health, where you might find it, and how to prevent harmful exposures.

  • Hazardous Waste. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides information on OSHA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and national consensus standards, as well as links to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other chemical safety sources.

  • Ventilation. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides links to engineering resources, OSHA Technical Manual (OTM), and Field Inspection Reference Manual (FIRM) sections, as well as National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) references.

  • Draft Model Training Program for Hazard Communication. OSHA. Presents an approach to providing training using a series of lesson plans, slides, and quizzes that are provided in appendices which also include a glossary of commonly used terms and references that can provide additional information.

  • International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSC). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Contains the collective views of the IPCS Peer Review Committee and summarize essential health and safety information on chemicals for use by workers at the "shop floor" level and employers in factories, agriculture, construction and other work places.

  • Hazard Evaluation System and Information Services (HESIS) Publications. California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Provides access to numerous publications about chemicals, other toxic substances, and hazards in selected occupations.
  • Understanding Toxic Substances An Introduction to Chemical Hazards in the Workplace [153 KB PDF, 17 pages]. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Explains how chemicals can affect the body, what to look for when reading health information, the different types of exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace, tips on how to know if you are exposed, what you can do to reduce exposure, and where to go for additional information. Based upon the previous reference.

  • International Programme on Chemical Safety. World Health Organization (WHO). The two main roles of the IPCS are to establish the scientific health and environmental risk assessment basis for safe use of chemicals and to strengthen national capabilities for chemical safety.

Specific Chemical Information

  • Occupational Chemical Database. OSHA maintains this chemical database as a convenient reference for the occupational safety and health community. It compiles information from several government agencies and organizations. This database originally was developed by OSHA in cooperation with EPA.

  • Chemical Sampling Information. OSHA. Provides information on chemical properties, health effects, and sampling and analysis parameters.

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149, (2007, September). Serves as a source of general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals and classes for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals.

  • NIOSH Numbered Publications - Current Intelligence Bulletins (CIB). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publications. Provides safety and health information on approximately 57 topics, many of which are chemicals or chemical related.

  • NIOSH Numbered Publications - Criteria Documents. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publications. References links to documents that identify specific hazards associated with a chemical, an industry, or a process. Industry trends, potential hazards, and recommended control procedures are presented.

  • Documentation for Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLHs). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

  • Report on Carcinogens (RoC). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP). Identifies and discusses agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances that may pose a health hazard due to their carcinogenicity.

  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Provides a table of contents of guidelines for many hazardous chemicals. The files provide technical chemical information, including chemical and physical properties, health effects, exposure limits, and recommendations for medical monitoring, personal protective equipment (PPE), and control procedures.

  • ToxFAQs™. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Provides a series of summaries and answers to frequently asked questions about contaminants found at hazardous waste sites and hazardous substances excerpted from ATSDR's Toxicological Profiles and Public Health Statements. Each fact sheet serves as a quick and easy-to-understand guide.

  • Sector Notebooks. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides a list of available notebooks containing: national industrial process descriptions, lists of chemicals commonly used, waste release profiles, discussions of pollution prevention opportunities, summaries of statutes and regulations, compliance and enforcement profiles, lists of compliance activities, and contact directories.

  • Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The IRIS is a database of human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances found in the environment. The information in IRIS is intended for those without extensive training in toxicology, but with some knowledge of health sciences.

  • Health Effects Notebook for Hazardous Air Pollutants. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides a collection of documents that contain health effects information related to each of the EPA Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

  • Chemical Reactivity Worksheet. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). Provides a free program that can be used to research the reactivity of substances or mixtures of substances.

  • Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Includes detailed reports on specific chemicals, covering hazard summaries, identification, exposure routes, health hazards, and ways of reducing exposure.

  • EXTOXNET - The EXTension TOXicology NETwork. The University of California-Davis, Oregon State University, Michigan State University, Cornell University, and the University of Idaho. Provides information more widely available via Pesticide Information Profiles, Toxicology Information Briefs, and Fact Sheets.

  • Where to find Material Safety Data Sheets on the Internet. Interactive Learning Paradigms Incorporated (ILPI). Provides links to MSDS available on the Internet.

  • For additional information on chemical reactivity, see OSHA's Chemical Reactivity Hazards Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides links to references that aid in evaluating chemical reactive interactions and their potential hazards.

Possible Solutions

The following references aid in controlling workplace hazards associated with hazardous and toxic substances.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

  • Small Business Handbook. OSHA Publication 2209, (2005). Also available as a 260 KB PDF, 56 pages.
  • Chemical Hazard Communication. OSHA Publication 3084, (Revised 1998). Also available as a 284 KB PDF, 31 pages. Establishes uniform requirements to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into, produced, or used in US workplaces are evaluated, and that this hazard information is transmitted to affected employers and exposed employees.

  • Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines. OSHA Publication 2254, (Revised 1998). Also available as a 720 KB PDF, 110 pages.

  • Draft Model Training Program for Hazard Communication. OSHA. Presents an approach to providing training using a series of lesson plans, slides, and quizzes that are provided in appendices which also include a glossary of commonly used terms and references.

  • Hazard Communication [1 MB ZIP*]. OSHA. Assists trainers conducting OSHA 10-hour General Industry outreach training for workers. Since workers are the target audience, the material emphasizes hazard identification, avoidance, and control — not standards. No attempt has been made to treat the topic exhaustively.

Other Resources

  • Chemical Safety. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Provides information on many hazardous chemicals and chemical concerns.

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). DHHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have created this agency to seek and prevent harmful exposures and diseases related to toxic substances by providing information, research, and public health actions.

  • Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) plays an important role in protecting public health and the environment from potential risk from toxic chemicals. This page provides links to various programs and initiatives within the OPPTS.

  • Contaminated Media, Human Health, and Environmental Effects. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Includes information about health, safety, and risk assessment issues related to Superfund sites and the hazards related to exposure to contaminants; risk assessment information; tips for reporting or responding to Superfund-related emergencies; and safety guides for cleaning up and preventing environmental hazards.

  • Office of Response and Restoration. Protects coastal and marine resources, mitigates threats, reduces harm, and restores ecological function and provides comprehensive solutions to environmental hazards caused by oil, chemicals, and marine debris.
  • Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS). California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Occupational Health Branch (OHB). Provides information about harmful workplace chemicals and the potential effects of exposure.

  • Library. US Department of Transportation (DOT), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing ZIP materials.

*These files are provided for downloading.