We use chemicals for a variety of purposesin our jobs every day. Some chemicals are harmless, some are hazardous, and some have unknown hazard levels. If you work with chemicals, then you could become exposed and needtoknow how you can protect yourself, and others, in your workplace from any possible consequences. We are chemically exposed when chemicals enter the lungs, touch the skin, splash into the eye, or swallowed. Once exposed to a chemical, there is a chance of that substance entering the blood and cells of the body. The chemical might be quickly excreted from the body, but could remain in the body for years, disrupting healthy bodily functions.
Working safety with hazardous substances requires responsibilities of both the employee and employer. Best work practices always supplement sound environmental controls and personal protective equipment to reduce exposures to potential chemical hazards. It is important to know a least the chemical name of the substance you are working with so that other characteristics can be verified from a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). These material sheets summarize the health and safety information about a chemical product. Inside an MSDS, the chemical will be fully characterized based on the following criteria: (Also see the document “How to Read and MSDS”)
- Physical and chemical properties
- Procedures for handling and storage.
- Health hazards – Is the material Toxic?
- Fire hazards – Is the material flammable?
- Reactivity Hazards - Can the chemical safely mix with another chemical?
- Approved Personal Protective Equipment
- Short Term Exposure Limits
- First aid measures in case of accidental exposure
- Disposal considerations
Accessing an MSDS Online:
One of the fastest ways to get an MSDS is to conduct a Google Search.
- In the search box include the following information:
- Name of chemical
- The words MSDS
- Optional: Including the Manufactures Name
- E.g. Google Search “Acetone MSDS Fisher Scientific”
Vermont SIRI Index- Laboratory and non-laboratory chemicals. Generally, works best to search by chemical, as opposed to company index.
Company MSDS sites
VWR MSDS Search
Links to Chemical Safety Information other than MSDS
"Chemicals" as a word is not quite broad enough to describe the range of substances with the potential to harm us. That's why we talk instead about substances hazardous to health, or a hazardous substance. A substance hazardous to health is any substance, or product containing a substance, to be used or produced in a workplace that is known or suspected to cause harm to health. The resources below provide detailed information about workplace hazards and hazardous substances.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health - Summarizes information on permissible exposure limits, chemical and physical properties, and health hazards of common chemicals.
National Library of Medicine - TOXNET – Provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed toxicology data from approximately 5000 chemicals.
Frequently Asked Questions