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Hazard Communication

OSHA Hazard Communication Standard Overview

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal regulatory body that oversees workplace safety in the private-sector as well as for some federal government employees. OSHA published the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 1983 and, at the time, it only applied to the manufacturing industry. Since then, the HCS has been amended to expand coverage to include all regulated industries with hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

In 2012, OSHA amended HCS once again to align it with the United Nations’ (UN) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  GHS was adopted by the UN in 2003 to provide uniform criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards of chemicals.  GHS also specified what information should be on chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).  To date, over 67 countries have adopted elements of GHS.  Beginning in December of 2013, OSHA phased in new requirements that manufacturers, suppliers/distributors and regulated employers would need to meet.  As of June 1, 2016, all HCS 2012 amendments are effective. Although the federal HCS does not directly apply to Shepherd University, it is prudent to ensure that all hazardous chemicals are labeled and SDSs are maintained in order to communicate hazards associated with chemicals present in the workplace. The information below expands on the requirements for labels and safety data sheets.

Hazardous Chemical Container Labeling

Primary Container Labels

Primary container labels on hazardous chemicals and products provided by manufactures and suppliers are required to have six elements.  The six elements are pictograms (see below), a signal word (“Danger” or “Warning”), hazard and precautionary statements, the product identifier (product/chemical name), and supplier information.  Supplemental information, such as an NFPA 704 hazard rating, may also be provided by suppliers. A sample HCS label, identifying the required label elements, is provided on the Quick Card below.

OSHA Quick Card: Labels

When receiving chemical containers regulated under HCS 2012, Shepherd employees should ensure that original chemical containers have not been defaced or detached from the original container.  If a label does become detached or defaced, the label should be immediately reattached to the container or a new label with all elements of the original label should be placed on the container.

Secondary Container Labels (In-House Labels)

Secondary containers not for immediate use* must be labeled, at minimum, with the Product Identifier and the hazards of the chemical.  The hazards may be communicated with words, pictures, symbols or a combination that provide at least general information about the hazards of the chemical. Unlabeled containers present an unnecessary risk in the workplace and can also lead to citations and fines from environmental, health and safety regulatory agencies.  For sample and printable secondary container labels, visit the Labels page.

*Immediate use means that the product in the secondary container will  be used completely while remaining under the care of one individual.  If at any time an individual will be leaving the area where the secondary container is in use (e.g. end of shift, class or lab, lunch break, etc.), the container must be labeled appropriately. 


HCS 2012 requires pictograms on labels to alert users of the chemical hazards to which they may be exposed.  Each pictogram consists of a symbol on a white background framed within a red or black diamond-shaped boarder and represents a distinct hazard(s).  The pictogram on the label is determined by the chemical hazard classification. The nine pictograms are pictured below. For more information, click the link below for OSHA’s Quick Card on pictograms.

Health Hazard PictogramFlammable PictogramIrritant PictogramGas Cylinder PictogramCorrosion PictogramExploding Bomb PictogramOxidizer PictogramEnvironment PictogramSkull & Crossbones Pictogram

OSHA Quick Card: Pictogram

Safety Data Sheets

HCS 2012 requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for every hazardous chemical supplied. SDSs, formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs, communicate the hazards of hazardous chemical products.  As of June 1, 2016, HCS 2012 requires SDSs to be in a uniform format, and include section numbers, headings, and associated information as outlined below:

Section 1, Identification
Section 2, Hazard(s) Identification
Section 3, Composition/Information on Ingredients
Section 4, First-Aid Measures
Section 5, Fire-Fighting Measures
Section 6, Accidental Release Measures
Section 7, Handling and Storage
Section 8, Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
Section 9, Physical and Chemical Properties
Section 10, Stability and Reactivity
Section 11, Toxicological Information
Section 12, Ecological Information
Section 13, Disposal Considerations
Section 14, Transport Information
Section 15, Regulatory Information
Section 16, Other Information

OSHA Quick Card: Safety Data Sheets

Supervisors and employees should retain all SDSs that are received. SDSs should be kept in a location known by employees and that is accessible to all affected employees. SDSs provide vital information on chemicals, especially in emergency situations.  In an effort to assist departments with their efforts in maintaining SDSs, a list of links to SDSs has been created for the University. This list is not inclusive of all chemicals on campus, but does provide over 2,000 SDSs.  Use the link below to access the SDS list. Please provide copies of SDSs for any chemical not currently listed to the Campus Environmental Safety Coordinator.

Shepherd University Safety Data Sheets

Exempted Materials

The Hazard Communication Standard does not apply to the following:

Training and Assistance

Contact Dustin Robbins if you or your department would like to schedule Hazard Communication Training or for assistance with chemical labeling, SDS management or any other aspect of hazard communication. Training can be delivered through an online training module, in-person or using a combination of the two.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if a chemical or product is hazardous?

How do I know if a chemical or product is not hazardous?