Chemical Safety in the Workplace

Chemical Safety is the process of ensuring chemicals are used responsibly, for both people’s health and the environment’s safety. It encompasses all activities involving chemicals, from their natural presence in the environment to extraction or synthesis, industrial production processes and transport, use and disposal.

Inhalation, skin contact or absorption into the bloodstream are the most common routes for toxic chemicals to enter the body. These routes can lead to acute or chronic toxicity with symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and muscle aches; among others.

Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace: Recognizing Hazards

Before using any chemical, review its container label and Safety Data Sheet for information regarding physical hazards like flammability, flashpoint, auto ignition temperature and reactivity or toxicity. Also review other sources for potential hazards associated with that chemical.

Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Regulations:

Under OSHA regulations, employers are accountable for safeguarding workers against workplace hazards. This includes identifying hazardous chemicals and installing appropriate controls to minimize exposure.

OSHA requires employees to receive training on chemical hazards in the workplace. This instruction can be delivered through classroom classes, seminars or workshops; the OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Topics webpage offers links to a wealth of materials related to this topic.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970:

OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, regulates workplaces across America. As a federal agency, OSHA works to safeguard workers’ health and safety in both private and public sectors alike. Their mission is to reduce injuries and illnesses caused by job-related activities.


Cal/OSHA has the most comprehensive list of Preemployment Limitations that apply in workplaces under its jurisdiction. It also operates a web-based portal where employers can search and compare PELs from different states.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Limits:
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends limits on occupational exposure to many substances. These recommendations are based on scientific data regarding hazards and likelihood of exposure for workers, which NIOSH continuously updates.

EPA Guidelines for Chemical Risk Assessment:

Chemicals that are considered toxic must meet EPA criteria to be classified as contaminants. When making their determination, the EPA takes into account potential adverse impacts on human health and the environment when deciding whether or not to regulate a substance.

Chemicals Considered Carcinogens:

For certain chemicals that have been identified as carcinogens, specific methods must be used to minimize exposure and safeguard against cancer development. This may involve wearing protective clothing and avoiding direct skin or eye contact.

Laboratory-Specific Chemical Safety Plan:

NIH employees who handle hazardous chemicals in their laboratories must create a laboratory-specific chemical safety plan for those substances they utilize and store there. This plan must then be approved by the Safety & Compliance Officer of the building where the laboratory is situated.

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