In almost all workplaces you will encounter hazardous materials or chemicals.

Hazardous Material(43807)Credit:

We often don’t stop to consider that toners for copiers, cleaning supplies, or other supplies used in and around offices are considered hazardous.  We often associate hazardous materials with environments such as manufacturing plants or construction sites. 

At one time or other, you and your co-workers should have received training on the "Hazard Communication Standard" alerting you to the chemicals in use at your worksite. If you haven’t received any training, it should be requested.  But everyone should review this information now and then, as a reminder of the need to be cautious.  This information is not only useful in the workplace but at home as well. 

Hazards from chemicals and other materials are everywhere we look-at work and at home. To protect yourself, you should know what type of exposure a particular chemical or material presents. Hazardous materials or chemicals can be classified into two groups, based upon their characteristics, physical hazards and health hazards.

Examples for each of these hazards follow:

Physical Hazards

  • Explosives - This product has the ability to quickly and violently release extraordinary amounts of energy through chemical reaction due to heat, shock or other source. An example of an explosive is dynamite.
  • Corrosives - Corrosives can cause severe skin tissue damage such as deterioration, burns, etc. Examples include hydrochloric and sulfuric acids.
  • Reactive - Certain chemicals or materials react or change their properties or composition if exposed to other chemicals, products, or just air or water. Reaction can result in hazardous conditions or situations resulting in fire, explosions or the creation of other hazardous by-products. Examples include certain metals such as sodium or potassium.
  • Flammable - Items that catch fire relatively easy can be considered as flammable. Generally speaking, a flammable product has a flashpoint of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Examples include certain solvents and fuels.

Health Hazards

  • Toxic - Toxic materials or chemicals are generally considered as poisons that can cause short-term or long-term sickness or even death. Exposure can be through inhalation, physical contact, etc. The degree of danger is dependent upon the level of exposure. Examples of toxic substances include gases like hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide.
  • Radioactive - Exposure to harmful levels of ionizing radiation can cause adverse health effects. Biological damage to cell tissue can result from overexposure.

When the specific type of chemical or material hazard is identified, proper planning and precautions should be taken to prevent exposure and address emergencies. Precautions may include eliminating the hazard by not using it or by substituting a safer material. People can stay away from the hazard to prevent exposure or provide physical barriers as a safeguard. Emergency planning includes action plans for reporting, containing and disposing of chemical spills.  You should have a policy and procedure in your workplace to deal with the handling of all chemicals.

If you have questions about hazardous chemicals or materials refer to the specific chemical Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which accompanies all chemicals.  This sheet will describe the physical and health hazards of the chemical being used.  You should know where all MSDS sheets for all products are stored and they should be easily accessible at all times in the workplace.  If you are unsure always ask your supervisor. Only when you identify hazards can proper precautions be taken to minimize exposure.

Few of us are chemists, but we all need to learn about the chemicals we work with especially if they are a part of our everyday work.

Under the Hazard Communication Standard put forth by OSHA, virtually all hazardous chemicals used in the workplace are required to have labels that indicate the type and level of the potential hazard.  The standard has an identification system which should be posted for all workers to view and refer to in the event of a chemical accident. 


The warning labels used to identify hazardous materials have a universal color and numbering system. They also utilize a letter designating what type of personal protective equipment is needed. This makes it easier for you to tell what type and level of hazard you are dealing with. Colors are used to show the specific kind of hazard, and numbers within the colors are used to let you know what the potential hazard is, mild through severe. Please review the following:


Red - indicates the flammability hazard.

Blue - shows the health hazard.

Yellow - tells the reactivity hazard.

White - informs if any special hazards exist.

0 indicates a minimal hazard

1 indicates a slight hazard

2 indicates a moderate hazard

3 indicates a serious hazard

4 indicates a severe hazard

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

This alphabetical letter will indicate the PPE that should be used when using a specific hazardous product or chemical.

A--safety glasses

B--safety glasses, gloves

C--safety glasses, gloves, synthetic apron

D--face shield, gloves, synthetic apron

E--safety glasses, gloves, dust respirator

F--safety glasses, gloves, synthetic apron, dust respirator

G--safety glasses, gloves, vapor respirator

H--splash goggles, gloves, synthetic apron, vapor respirator

I--safety glasses, gloves, dust and vapor respirator

J--splash goggles, gloves, synthetic apron, dust and vapor respirator

K--air line respirator, gloves, full suit, boots

X--Ask your supervisor for guidance


Keep in mind that as a rule of thumb, any chemical with a category with that is a "2" or higher should be considered as having the potential to create a dangerous situation. If you are unsure about any aspect of the chemical that you are handling, refer to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).  You should be able to receive specific instructions on the use of the chemical from reading the directions on the container and from the MSDS.  Remember, at a minimum; always wear the personal protective equipment recommended. It is never a bad move to wear more protection than less.  The purpose of the standard is to reduce the number of unprotected exposures to work place chemicals. It is meant to protect YOU and you should take it seriously!