Hospital-wide Hazards » Hazardous Chemicals

Employee exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides, disinfectants, cleaners and hazardous drugs, in the workplace.

Requirements under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200

One purpose of OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is to provide information to employees on the hazards of the chemicals they use at work. Employers are required to ensure that employees are aware of the hazards associated with the chemicals to which they are exposed in the workplace and on the precautions to properly protect themselves. The standard requires employers to:

  • Make employees aware of the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed in the workplace, such as those found in some soaps, disinfectants, and pesticides. Under the standard, an employee is exposed to a hazardous chemical when the employee is subjected in the course of employment to a chemical that is a physical or health hazard, and includes potential (e.g., accidental or possible) exposure.
    • A chemical with a “health hazard” is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects: acute toxicity (any route of exposure); skin corrosion or irritation; serious eye damage or eye irritation; respiratory or skin sensitization; germ cell mutagenicity; carcinogenicity; reproductive toxicity; specific target organ toxicity (single or repeated exposure); or aspiration hazard.
    • A chemical with a “physical hazard” is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects: explosive; flammable (gases, aerosols, liquids, or solids); oxidizer (liquid, solid or gas); self-reactive; pyrophoric (liquid or solid); self-heating; organic peroxide; corrosive to metal; gas under pressure; or in contact with water emits flammable gas.
  • Develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication program [29 CFR 1910.1200(e)];
  • Maintain a hazardous chemical inventory list [29 CFR 1910.1200(a)(2)] and ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals contains an appropriate warning (i.e., that it is labeled, tagged or marked) [29 CFR 1910.1200(f)];
    • The HCS does not require labeling of any consumer product, as that term is defined in the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2051 et seq.), when subject to a consumer product safety standard or labeling requirement of that Act, or regulations issued under that Act by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. [29 CFR 1910.1200(b)(5)(v)]
  • Maintain Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for hazardous chemicals [29 CFR 1910.1200(g)];
  • Provide workers with effective training on hazardous chemicals at the time of initial assignment and whenever a new chemical hazard is introduced into their work area. [29 CFR 1910.1200(h)(1)]. For training to be effective, it needs to be conducted in a language that workers can understand, and include an opportunity for employees to ask questions to ensure that they understand the information presented to them.
  • Among other elements, workers must be trained in the measures to take to protect themselves from chemical hazards, including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure (e.g., emergency procedures, engineering controls, work practices, PPE) [29 CFR 1910.1200(h)(3)(iii)].
  • Ensure labels, or other forms of warning, and SDSs are in English. The standard permits employers to supplement English language versions with non-English versions for the benefit of workers who speak other languages.
  • For additional requirements under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, see 29 CFR 1910.1200. See also, Frequently Asked Questions: Hazard Communication (HAZCOM).

Some Other OSHA Requirements Associated with Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals:

  • Control chemical hazards with the use of engineering controls (e.g., ventilation) or administrative controls when feasible (see, e.g., 29 CFR Part 1910.1000(e)).
  • Provide and ensure employees use PPE (e.g., goggles, gloves, splash aprons, as appropriate) under 29 CFR Part 1910 Subpart I.
    • Examples of when PPE is required:
      • When employees remove heated items or change out detergent from cleaning equipment, such as washer/decontaminators, or ultrasonic, tunnel or cart washers that automate the dispensing of washing chemicals.
      • When employees handle hazardous detergents and chemicals to clean equipment and surfaces.
    • Ensure workers use caution during the use, donning, and doffing of appropriate PPE (e.g., goggles, gloves, etc.) to avoid injury, illness, and infection.
    • For more information see OSHA Safety and Health Topics page - Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Medical services and first aid: Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body must be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use. [29 CFR 1910.151(c)].
  • In addition to the Hazard Communication Standard, employee exposure to specific hazardous chemicals might be regulated by OSHA standards specific to those chemicals, e.g., ethylene oxide [29 CFR 1910.1047].

Additional Information