The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) was written to give workers the right to know about hazardous chemicals in the workplace. It has since been expanded to ensure workers have access to information about these hazards, establishing a “right to understand.”

The HCS requires that:

  • Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to evaluate 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; and
  • All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

If you thought I should have printed MSDS, you are only 4 months behind the deadline!

Formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (or MSDSs), these 16-section documents provide employers and employees with all the information they need to safely handle the hazardous material.

Don’t worry about the size of the SDS. Sixteen sections may sound overwhelming, but it’s really a way to organize the information so you can easily find and read specific details. A safety data sheet contains basic information such as what the product is, who made it and distributes it, types of hazard(s) associated with the chemical, what first aid measures work should a worker become exposed, how to handle and store the material, and so on.

Employers must ensure that SDSs are readily accessible to employees. If you regularly come in contact with hazardous chemicals, I strongly recommend you take a few minutes to review the SDS. You’ll want to know what to do should you or an employee is ever exposed.


As of June 1, 2015, new SDSs are required to be in a standardized format. This will make reading them and finding the information you need that much easier. If you want more information on how they are organized and information they contain, click here to read the OHSA Safety Brief.

Another reason why SDSs are needed on job sites: First responders tell me that minutes count in making the difference between being alive and being kept alive.

When a worker is found unconscious on a job, the EMT needs the SDS to see what chemicals might have had a role in this person’s condition. Without knowing this, they can only sustain and transport to a hospital so as not to cause further harm in treating someone in a manner that could have serious, if not fatal, consequences.

Instead of reviving a worker, the EMTs are only a fancy taxi. Would you want your worker alive or only kept alive?

Get the paperwork on the site — it might be your life they are trying to save.


One of the other ways HCS requires manufacturers and importers to communicate to employers and employees is through the use of container labeling. As of June 1, 2015, labels are standardized to the format below:

OSHA Hazcom Sample Label

OSHA Hazcom Sample Label

These labels provide an “at a glance” overview of the product and its hazards. Starting at the top left of the label, the label sections are:

  • Product Identifier: Chemical name, code or batch number. It must match the information on the SDS.
  • Supplier Identifier (Contact Information)
  • Precautionary Statements: Describes recommended measures to minimize risk of exposure as well as what to do in case of a fire and first aid measures.
  • Hazard Pictograms: Graphic symbols used to visually communication specific hazard information. These will be covered in a bit more detail later in the article.
  • Signal Word: A one-word statement, and there are only two words used: Danger or Warning. “Danger” is generally used when there is a more immediate threat of harm if exposed, while “Danger” is used if the harm is less severe.
  • Hazard Statements: Describes the nature of the hazard.
  • Supplementary Information: This is additional, helpful information provided by the manufacturer or distributor. It may include such information as directions of use, expiration dates, or additional pictograms that do not denote hazards but are useful, such as a person wearing goggles.

Pictograms are a critical piece of hazard communication. They always consist of a red square frame, set diagonally, with the black hazard symbol on a white background. They have to be large enough to be clearly visible. OSHA has eight pictograms that it uses, with the ninth, Environmental, as optional.

OSHA Pictograms

OSHA Pictograms

Please note, the OSHA pictograms DO NOT replace the required US Department of Transportation (DOT) diamond shaped labels. For those who need to create labels, the pictograms are provided in various digital formats and are free to use.

Training Your Employees

Training is also a requirement under HCS. Employers must train on:

  • All elements of the label(s).
  • How the labels might be used in the workplace. For example, using Precautionary Statements to explain how to properly store the chemical.
  • Safety data sheets.
  • How the label is related to the SDSs.

Employers must also train in a language and manner that their employees understand. For example, training should take place in the language of the workers while limited vocabulary employees should have the training altered to fit their vocabulary limitations.

Employers are also encouraged to use the OSHA QuickCards and, if possible, provide to all employees. The cards provide a quick reference to components of the labels, the SDS, and pictograms. OSHA offers downloadable quickcards that you can print and distribute.

So there you have it: Hazard communication in a nutshell. There are more parts to the Hazard Communication Standard than can be covered here. A fact sheet issued by OSHA provides more information and links you may need.

It’s important to remember that the HCS is a “right to know” law. As such, it provides the framework to ensure employees receive the information and training needed to stay safe on the job. Take the time to get up to speed on Hazard Communications. You’ll be doing yourself and your workers a favor.

Now for the good news. We are here to help. If you have a question on hazard communications, a site situation or even an upcoming project, feel free to contact the LeadSMART Training Solutions office and ask for me, Peter. Our help is free of charge and we are not EPA or OSHA agents so we welcome you to speak freely. Located in Southern New Hampshire and covering CT, MA, ME, NH, and VT, you can also email me at

Or, if you would like to register for a LeadSMART class or to discuss private training sessions, call our office at 888-731-LEAD (5323) or 603-842-4282. We are here to help you.

[jetpack_subscription_form title=”SUBSCRIBE TO THE LEADSMART TRAINING BLOG” subscribe_text=”Enter your email address below to subscribe to the LeadSmart Training Blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up” show_subscribers_total=”0″]