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Idaho State University

General Chemical Safety

Before using any chemical, even if it is something that you have worked with at home or in other situations, it is important to understand what the hazards may be and how to work with it safely.

In order to assess the hazards of a particular chemical, both the physical and health hazards of the chemical must be considered. Generally, more information is available about physical hazards than health hazards. An overview of basic toxicology and physical hazards follows.

Before using any chemical, the container label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS), and other relevant and available information, should be reviewed to determine what conditions of use may pose a hazard.

Accidents with hazardous chemicals can happen quickly and may be quite severe. The key to prevention of these accidents is awareness.

Physical Hazards of Chemicals

Health Hazards of Chemicals

Chemical Routes of Entry

The physical hazards of a chemical include its flammability and reactivity. Flammability is the tendency of a chemical to burn. The flashpoint, auto ignition temperature and flammable limits of the material may be found in the SDS, and are helpful in assessing the potential for a fire hazard under specified conditions.

Reactivity is the potential of the material to explode or react violently with air, water or other substances upon contact. The SDS furnishes this information in the Stability and Reactivity Data section.

Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

In 2012, OSHA modified the Hazard Communication standard to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which was established by the United Nations in 2003. The purpose of the update was to provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and SDSs. This update requires manufacturers to now use a standardized format to display hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.  The most notable display of these changes has been the adoption of the use of GIS standard pictograms to describe potential health and physical hazards on labels and in SDSs. See link below.

Hazard Communication GIS Standard Pictograms

Additional Information

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Hazardous Materials Key facts about specific workplace chemicals and their hazards. Assists in recognizing and controlling the hazards.

California Proposition 65 list  includes a wide range of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. 

Chemical Resistance Guide (for glove selection)  - Ansell,  8th Edition