Hazard Communication FAQ

What is the Hazard Communications Standard?

The Hazard Communication Standard   requires employers to establish hazard communication programs to transmit information on the hazards of chemicals to their employees by means of labels on containers, material safety data sheets, and training programs. Implementation of these hazard communication programs will ensure that all employees have the "right-to-know" the hazards and identities of the chemicals they work with, and will reduce the incidence of chemically - related occupational illnesses and injuries. This policy is enforced by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

An SDS is a written document produced by the chemical manufacturer or importer that includes important information about a chemical including:

  • The chemical identity
  • Physical and chemical characteristics
  • Physical and health hazards
  • Medical conditions which are aggravated by exposure to the chemical
  • The primary route(s) of entry into the body
  • Relevant exposure limits
  • Whether the hazardous chemical is listed in the Report on Carcinogensby the National Toxicology Program (NTP) .
  • Precautions for safe handling
  • Procedures for clean-up of spills 
  • Control measures
  • Emergency and first aid procedures
  • Date of preparation/update of the SDS
  • Name, address and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer

For a detailed description of SDS's view the Hazard Communication Standard - 1910.1200.

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Do I need to use an SDS?

SDS's are useful documents and should be used as reference for any questions that you may have concerning a chemical that is used in your workplace. Duke University is required to provide access to SDS's for hazardous chemicals that employees use while at work. 

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Which chemicals require an SDS?

Every hazardous chemical that is in use in the workplace requires an SDS. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a hazardous chemical as "any chemical which is a health hazard or a physical hazard ". Some materials do not require an SDS.

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Which substances do not require an SDS?

SDS's are not required for any of the following items or chemicals:

  • Chemicals that are not considered by OSHA to be "hazardous". (Note: you will never get in trouble for having an SDS you don't need, so it is always better to be safe than sorry.)
  • "Articles" such as a carpet or chair. 
  • Hazardous waste as defined by the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976 (a.k.a., RCRA, Title II, Subpart D). 
  • Hazardous substances defined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. (CERCLA). 
  • Pesticides defined in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). 
  • Laboratory chemicals defined in Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories . (Note: if you work in a laboratory and receive an SDS when a chemical is shipped to you, you are required to retain the SDS and make it available to employees.) 
  • Food and alcoholic beverages
  • Tobacco or tobacco products
  • Wood or wood products
  • Cosmetics
  • Nuisance particulates that do not pose any physical or health hazard
  • Ionizing and non ionizing radiation
  • Biological hazards
  • Drugs in solid, final form for direct administration to the patient. (For example, tablets, pills, and capsules.)
  • Drugs which are packaged by the chemical manufacturer for sale to consumers in retail establishments or those for personal consumption such as included in first aid cabinets. 

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Do pharmaceuticals require an SDS?

SDS are required for all drugs defined under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act except for drugs in solid, final form for direct administration to the patient (i.e., tablets, pills, capsules). 

What should I do with SDS hard copies from a chemical manufacturer?

Whenever you order a new chemical the chemical distributor has the responsibility to provide you with a Materials Safety Data Sheet. Keep the original copy of this document for your department's SDS collection and please fax (681-5916) or mail (Box 3914) a photocopy of the complete SDS to the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office.

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What are my SDS responsibilities?

The Duke University Safety Manual outlines the following responsibilities regarding SDSs:

Departments shall:

  • Develop and maintain an up-to-date inventory of all chemical products used in departmental work areas.
  • Maintain Material Safety Data Sheets for all hazardous chemicals listed on the inventory.
  • Ensure that SDS's are readily accessible to employees during all hours that employees work in the area.
  • Prepare SDS's for chemical products formulated or manufactured by their department.

Supervisors shall:

  • Conduct site-specific on-the-job training for chemical substances used in their workplaces. Supervisors must train employees before they begin work with any new chemical: at orientation and when new chemicals are introduced into the work area.
  • Review the hazard information on all new chemical products brought into the workplace.
  • Request additional information from OESO as necessary.

OESO shall:

  • Conduct general Hazard Communication Training as part of employee orientation.
  • Maintain a master archive of SDS's for distribution to users.
  • Assist departments in the preparation of SDS's.

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Contractors who bring hazardous chemicals onto Duke University property shall:

  • Make the Hazard Communication Program available for review at the work site.
  • Maintain an up-to-date hazardous chemical inventory, and all corresponding SDS's.
  • Be aware of all information contained in the Contractor Safety Guidebook.

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What are my labeling requirements?

OSHA requires that the label include the identity, name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and appropriate hazard warnings.

The identity is any term that appears on the label, the SDS, and the list of hazardous chemicals , and thus links these three sources of information. The identity used by the supplier may be a common or trade name ("Black Magic Formula"), or a chemical name (1,1,1-trichloroethane). 

The hazard warning is a brief statement of the hazardous effects of the chemical ("flammable," "causes lung damage"). Labels frequently contain other information, such as precautionary measures ("do not use near open flame"), but this information is provided voluntarily and is not required by the rule.

Labels must be legible, with required information appearing in English and other languages understood by employees. Labels should be prominently displayed on the container. There are no specific requirements for size or color, or any specified text.

If employees transfer chemicals into a secondary container, this container must also be labeled as indicated above with the following exceptions:

  • If the employee who transfers the chemical into the secondary container will use ALL of it during that work shift and before leaving the work area, the container does not have to be labeled.
  • If the container will not leave the work area, the label is required to have the identity and hazard warning but does not need the manufacturer's name and address.

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What is a list of hazardous chemicals?

As part of the Written Hazard Communication Program, OSHA requires employers to maintain a list of the hazardous chemicals known to be present. You should use the identity that is referenced on the appropriate material safety data sheet. The list may be compiled for the workplace as a whole or for individual work areas.

How do I find an SDS?

  • Determine the manufacturer of the substance that you are using.
  • Click on the direct link to that manufacturer if available.
  • If the manufacturer's name is not displayed then search through the additional sources list of SDSs.
  • Follow the web site search links to retrieve the SDS that you require.

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What if I cannot find the SDS that I am looking for?

If after searching through our links you cannot find the SDS you are looking for: Submit a request on-line. If an SDS is required immediately for an SDS emergency contact the OESO at 684-5996.

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SDS Glossary


American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists . A professional organization of government and university industrial hygienists.

Acute Health Effect

An adverse effect arising from a short (minutes to hours) period of exposure.


American Industrial Hygiene Association . A professional organization of industrial hygienists. 


Defined by OSHA as "any manufactured item other than a fluid or particle which is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture, has end use function(s) dependent in whole or in part upon its shape or design during end use, and which under normal conditions of use does not release more than. minute or trace amounts of a hazardous chemical and does not pose a physical hazard or health risk to employees".

CAS Number

Chemical Abstracts Service number - a way in which chemicals are uniquely identified by a numbering system.

Ceiling Limit

A designated maximum airborne level to which people can be exposed.

Chronic Health Effect

An adverse effect arising after long periods (months to years) of exposure.

Hazardous chemical

Any chemical that is a physical hazard or a health hazard 

Health Hazard

Includes chemicals which are carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, agents which act on the hematopoietic system, and agents which damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes.

Lethal Dose (LD50)

The dose producing death in 50% of a test animal population

Lower Explosive Limit (LEL)

The minimum concentration as a percentage, of flammable gas that can be ignited. Also referred to as the Lower Flammable Limit (LFL)

Lowest Lethal Concentration (LCLo)

The lowest concentration of a substance in air that has been known to kill animals

Lowest Toxic Dose (TDLo)

The lowest dose reported to cause toxic effects in humans or test animals. Permissible Exposure Limit - Permissible concentration in air of a substance to which nearly all workers may be repeatedly exposed 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, for 30 years without adverse side effects. This value is legally enforceable by OSHA.


Concentration measurement in milligrams per cubic meter.


Material Safety Data Sheet


National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health


Occupational Exposure Limit - A health based workplace standard to protect workers from adverse exposure. For example, TLV or PEL.


Occupational Safety and Health Administration . Located within the US Department of Labor. The agency responsibilities include formulating occupational safety and health standards and inspecting workplaces to ensure compliance with these standards.


Permissible Exposure Limit - the maximum eight-hour time-weighted-average air concentration to which employees can be exposed. This level is enforced by OSHA.


Permissible Exposure Limit-Short Term Exposure Limit - 15 min Time Weighted Average exposure that shall not be exceeded at any time during a workday.

Physical Hazard

A chemical for which there is scientifically valid evidence that it is a combustible liquid, a compressed gas, explosive, flammable, an organic peroxide, an oxidizer, pyrophoric, unstable (reactive) or water - reactive.


Personal Protective Equipment - Includes items such as gloves, safety goggles and respirator masks that are worn to reduce the potential for exposure to chemicals.


Concentration in parts per million (by volume).Label Any written, printed, or graphic material displayed on or affixed to containers of hazardous chemicals.


Short Term Exposure Limit - Maximum concentration for continuous 15 minute period, allowed four times a day with at least 60 minutes between exposures


Time Weighed Average - The average exposure for an individual over a given working period (normally 8 hours).


Threshold Limit Value - An exposure level under which most people can work consistently for 8 hours a day, without adverse effects. Can also be used with 15-minute Short Term Exposure Limits. This exposure level was developed by the ACGIH and is not a legally enforceable value.

(UEL) Upper Explosive Limit

Percentage by volume of a flammable gas or vapor that is the maximum level ignitable. Also referred to the Upper Flammable Limit (UFL).


Workplace Environmental Exposure Level - exposure guidelines developed by AIHA .

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