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General Responsibilities

The Hazard Communication Standard

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 2012) (29 CFR 1910.1200) provides workers exposed to hazardous chemicals with a "right to know" the identities and hazards of those materials. Additionally, employees must also be told the appropriate protective measures associated with the hazardous chemicals. When workers have this important information, they are able to take steps to protect themselves from the negative effects caused by accidental exposure.

haz waste sign

OSHA's HCS 2012 requires employers and manufacturers to develop and distribute chemical information as stated below:

  • Chemical manufacturers and importers must classify the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers.
  • All employers with classified hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train workers to handle the chemicals appropriately.

This means that even though an employer was not responsible for the manufacturing of the hazardous chemical, the employer has the responsibility for transmitting information about the hazardous chemical to his or her employees.

The Hazard Communication Standard (Continued)

In 2012, OSHA released an update to the Hazard Communication Standard. The HCS 2012 is now aligned with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) that provides many benefits, including the following:

  • provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets
  • improves the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace
  • helps reduce trade barriers
  • results in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use classified hazardous chemicals
  • provides cost savings for American businesses who periodically update safety data sheets and labels for classified chemicals

Right to Understand

The previous Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 1994) required that workers have the right to know about hazardous chemicals, but the updated HCS 2012 also gives workers the right to understand. This is an important distinction between the two versions.

toxic chemicals

Under the old rule, employers needed only to provide employees with the information associated with the chemicals to which they are exposed. With the publication of the HCS 2012, employers also need to check to verify employees understand this information. For example, if a chemical is a strong acid, it is not enough for an employee to know the chemical is an acid. The employer must ensure employees understand the hazards of a strong acid and how to protect themselves from the associated hazards.

Hazard Communications Standard Application

toxic chemicals

The HCS 2012 applies to any chemical which is known to be present in the workplace in such a manner that employees may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the components of this statement.

"Foreseeable emergency" means any potential occurrence such as, but not limited to, equipment failure, rupture of containers, or failure of control equipment which could result in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous chemical into the workplace.

The phrase "known to be present" is important. If a hazardous chemical is known to be present by the chemical manufacturer or the employer, it is covered by the standard.

"Hazardous chemical" means any chemical which is classified as a physical hazard or a health hazard, such as a simple asphyxiant, combustible dust, pyrophoric gas, or hazard not otherwise classified.

“Employees,” such as office workers or bank tellers who encounter hazardous chemicals only in non-routine and isolated instances are not covered. For example, an office worker who occasionally changes the toner in a copying machine would not be covered by the standard. However, an employee who operates a copying machine as part of her/his work duties would be covered by the provisions of the HCS.

Chemicals in Sealed Containers

In work operations where employees only handle chemicals in sealed containers which are not opened under normal conditions of use (such as are found in marine cargo handling, warehousing, or retail sales), employers must:

  • Ensure labels on incoming containers of hazardous chemicals are not removed or defaced.
  • Maintain copies of any safety data sheets that are received with incoming shipments of the sealed containers of hazardous chemicals.
  • Obtain a safety data sheet as soon as possible if sealed containers do not have safety data sheets.
  • Ensure the safety data sheets are readily accessible during each work shift.
  • Provide appropriate information and training about the hazards of the chemicals employees use.
  • Protect employees in the event of a spill or leak of a hazardous chemical from a sealed container.

Chemical Health Hazards

Chemicals can cause a variety of health hazards. Be sure to protect yourself with approved personal protective equipment, as shown in this photo.

Chemicals that are health hazards can damage an exposed person’s tissue, vital organs, or internal systems. Generally, the higher the chemical’s toxicity, the lower the amount or dose necessary for it to have harmful effects. The effects vary from person to person, ranging from temporary discomfort to permanent damage. The extent of damage depends upon dose, toxicity, and duration of exposure to the chemical. Health effects range from short-duration symptoms that often appear immediately (acute effects) to persistent symptoms that usually appear after longer exposures (chronic effects). Health effects can be classified by how they affect tissue, vital organs, or internal systems.

Here are a few hazards:

  • carcinogens cause cancer
  • corrosives damage living tissue
  • hematopoietic agents affect the blood system
  • hepatotoxins cause liver damage
  • irritants cause inflammation of living tissue
  • nephrotoxins damage cells or tissues of the kidneys
  • neurotoxins damage tissues of the nervous system
  • reproductive toxins damage reproductive systems, endocrine systems, or a developing fetus
  • sensitizers cause allergic reactions


A paint maker (victim) was working by himself using a paint stripper to remove dried paint from the inside of a tank. The stripper contained methylene chloride, methanol, and mineral spirits. The tank was a permit-required confined space. The space was not adequately ventilated and the victim was not trained in confined space entry. There was no attendant at the tank opening to monitor the work process while the victim was in the tank. The victim was wearing a cartridge respirator that did not adequately protect against inhaling methylene chloride vapors.

The victim was observed unresponsive at the bottom of the tank by a co-worker. The co-worker tried to rescue the victim and was overcome by vapors. The high concentration of methylene chloride in the product, the tank configuration, the inadequate ventilation, and the inadequate training and implementation of confined space procedures were contributing factors in this incident. The victim died from exposure to dichloromethane (methylene chloride).

The investigator determined in order to prevent exposure to methylene chloride while cleaning paint tanks, employers should ensure:

  1. Policies and procedures are developed and implemented to clean paint tanks more frequently with water-based materials before the paint is cured. If this is not possible, the cured paint should be stripped with abrasive removal methods.
  2. If toxic chemicals must be used inside a tank, employees must be provided with worker training in chemical hazard communication and confined space entry procedures.

The New Globally Harmonized System


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Which of the following is listed as a benefit of the new HCS 2012 and GHS requirements?

2. The previous HCS 1994 gave workers _____ and the new HCS 2012 gives workers _____.

3. If a hazardous chemical is known to be present by the manufacturer or the employer, it is not covered by the OSHA standard.

4. The HCS 2012 applies to _____ chemical known to be present in the workplace.

5. Which chemical below may cause an inflammation of living tissue?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.