Toolbox Talk: Chemical Hazards

By Aug 15, 2022
Blue cans labeled with a flame hazard sign. Image by CILS.
This briefing discusses chemical hazard identification and determination.




This briefing discusses chemical hazard identification and determination.

An important part of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) is hazard determination, identifying and evaluating all chemicals used on the work site. Often, an electrical contractor will rely on the manufacturer to determine the hazards, but having a basic understanding of the classification of hazards may make it easier to keep the work environment safer. The chemical evaluation is based on listed and defined hazards:

  • Listed hazards are those chemicals with hazards spelled out specifically in one of several references, such as carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).
  • Defined hazards are those substances for which OSHA has offered definitions or parameters to classify them as a physical or health hazard, such as combustible liquids, oxidizers and corrosives.
  • There is also a group of chemicals excluded from the standard because they are regulated by other standards. Some examples include wood and wood products (except wood dust), regulated hazardous wastes, tobacco products, food, drugs, cosmetics and alcoholic beverages.

A chemical—whether listed or defined as hazardous—can be classified as a physical or health hazard or both. A chemical that poses a physical hazard is one for which there is scientific evidence that it is a flammable, combustible or an explosive material, compressed gas, organic peroxide or an oxidizer. These are chemicals that could cause damage to the physical surroundings through fire or explosion.

Health hazards arise from chemicals that cause adverse effects with brief or long-term exposure. These hazards aren’t always obvious; workers may not see, feel or smell the danger. This includes chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde, which are known carcinogens; toxic agents such as insecticides and arsenic compounds; irritants like bleach or ammonia; corrosives such as battery acid or caustic sodas; and sensitizers such as creosote or epoxy resins. The health issues these chemicals can cause are just as varied: heart ailments, kidney damage, lung damage, sterility, cancer, burns and rashes.

Hazardous chemicals can enter the body in three ways: through contact with the skin, ingestion or swallowing and inhalation. Skin contact with chemicals can result in mild effects such as skin rashes or irritation or more serious effects such as chemical burns and skin damage.

  • To avoid the risk of ingesting hazardous materials, do not eat or drink in an area that may contain these toxins.
  • Exposure can occur when your hands make contact with chemicals and then touch your mouth or eye area.
  • Breathing in toxic dust or vapors can occur without knowledge or immediate symptoms.

Because of the danger of work-site chemical exposures, it is important to be aware of what chemicals and risks are present on the job.

Discussion questions:

  • What is the difference between a physical and a health hazard?
  • Why are some chemicals excluded from HazCom?
  • What are the three ways that hazardous chemicals can enter the body?
  • Why should you never eat or drink at the job site?
Header image by CILS.

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