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Frequently Asked Questions on Chemical Safety & HazCom Training

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

on chemical safety and your 'Right to Know'

Q -   What should I know about Chemical Safety?

Q -   What is the 'HazCom' or the 'Right to Know' law?

Q -   What and where is the written Hazard Communication Program?

Q -   Is there a checklist of rights and obligations under HazCom?

Q -   What is a chemical inventory and why keep it?  (HazCom Requirement)  (Inventory Policy)

Q -   What is an SDS?

Q -   Where can I obtain an SDS?

Q Where should I keep the SDSs?

Q -   Who is required to attend the Hazard Communication class?

Q -   What is Prior Approval?

Q - How do I know if a chemical containier is properly labeled?   HazCom label requirements

Q -  What do I need to know about Laboratory Safety?

Q -   Who should attend classes on the Lab Standard regulations?

Q -   Can chemical containers be stored on shelves above a bench?

Q -   Can chemicals of different hazard be stored in the same cabinet?

Q -   Can chemicals with high toxicity be used on the open bench?

Q -   What are some alternative methods to chromic acid for cleaning glassware?

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Frequently Asked Training Questions

Q- What classes are available from Environmental Health and Safety?

Q- What are these classes and who should attend them?

Q - When are the classes scheduled?

Q- Who is required to attend the classes on Chemical Safety?

Q- How often does EH&S offer Hazard Communication classes?

Q- Who should attend classes on the Lab Standard regulations?

Q- My lab manager has Nobel Prizes for hazard communication and lab safety.  Does she still need to attend class on HazCom and Lab Standard?

Q- Do we have to attend the classes given by University Safety? It's too inconvenient for off-campus employees to attend these classes.

(Training Questions (FAQ List)



 Q - What should I know about chemical safety?

Answer: You should know

  • what the chemicals are in your work area and
  • are they harmful and hazardous?

If so,

  • what are the hazards and
  • how can you protect yourself. 

Chemicals are so much a part of our environment we often forget that they can be harmful.  Even the small office environment with little more than a computers, desks and books can include liquids, sprays and powders that are flammable, possibly explosive, or if inhaled or ingested are harmful to your health. However most office materials are not a risk if used properly. (also see Index to Chemical Safety  )

Many common materials such as paints, glues, or cleaners, in quantities larger than might be kept in a desk can pose a risk of fire or be a inhalation hazard. If a department has a lab, darkroom, work area or storage with adhesives, cleaners, solvents, inks, fuels, pesticides, or other chemicals, then the individuals using the area need to receive information and training on the Right to Know (OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard) and have access to safety information (SDSs) and equipment. Please see the employees checklist or the supervisors checklist for worker protection and employer/employee obligations under HazCom. 

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 Q - What is the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard or Right to Know Law?

Answer: In summary the OSHA Hazcom Regulations which outline the law known as the Hazard Communication Standard (also called the 'Right to Know' or 'Hazcom' law) requires chemical producers and employers (NMSU) to determine and provide hazard information to the users of these chemicals and materials.  Employers are required to provide a written Hazard Communication Program, to determine the hazards, to keep safety information (SDSs), to ensure that the hazards are labeled, and to train their employees.  More information is at the following NMSU HazCom compliance and 2012-2015 GHS changes.   

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 Q - What and where is NMSU's written Hazard Communication Program?

Answer: Each NMSU department using hazardous materials on a regular basis is required to establish a Hazard Communication Program for their areas.  This program must include written documentation of their procedures to establish and update an inventory of hazardous materials in their areas, to provide safety information on the hazardous materials (SDSs), to ensure proper labeling, and to provide information and training on the hazards. A written copy of the program, the inventory, as well as the SDSs is to be made available to employees using or working in areas where hazardous materials are used or stored.  A model program is available.  (Hazcom Model Program - format: Word)

The University has an written Hazard Communication Program administered by Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), which oversees the programs written by the various departments and other areas which do not used hazardous materials on a regular basis.  It is available for review at Environmental Health and Safety and can be reviewed on the Safety web page.   

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Q -   Where can I obtain an SDS?

AnswerSafety Data Sheets (SDSs) should be included as part of your chemical order.   They are required to be provided as all NMSU purchase orders.   If they are not with the order or the products were purchased over the counter, you can still get them from the manufacturer or vendor.  The SDS source link provides more information on obtaining safety data for your chemicals.   

Note: SDS must match product in use

  • same manufacture
  • same mixture & formula 
  • latest copy

Q -   Where should I keep the SDSs?

AnswerSafety Data Sheets (SDSs) should be kept where they are

  • readily available (able to obtain within 10 minutes) 
  • available to user before using product (supervisors responsibility)
  • available in case of exposure (send with EMT &/or provide to doctor for respiratory problem, in case of injury (keep record 30 yrs)
  • Identify location, available during chem use (not locked away)

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 Q - Is there a checklist of protections under Hazcom?

Answer: Yes, please see the employees checklist or the supervisors checklist for Hazcom 

(Safety FAQ)

 Q - Who is required to attend the Safety classes on regulations and chemicals?

Answer: OSHA's laboratory safety and hazard communication standards require NMSU to implement exposure control programs and convey chemical health and safety information to employees working with hazardous materials.  Therefore, any employee working with chemicals must attend chemical safety classes (Hazard Communication Classes).  Employees working working with chemicals in laboratory setting must also be provided with training on the Laboratory Standard. 

Q - What is Prior Approval?

Answer: OSHA regulation require the review of unusual (outside normal lab or facility use) research or experiments involving chemicals, hazardous fumes, radiation, infectious materials, explosives, etc. Any new procedure should be subjected to peer review. Not only from a scientific standpoint, but also to assure that all safety considerations are in place prior to implementation. Prior Approval forms need to be completed, approved and filed with EH&S for all new (lab and non-lab) work involving highly toxic, flammable or explosive materials, modification or new use of experiment facilities, etc. 

Prior Approval form

In part this to ensure that proper exposure control programs are in place and that employees are trained and have recieved information on the hazards and safe procedures.  Please see the NMSU checklist of training requirements. At a minimum, all employee working with chemicals must attend chemical safety classes (Hazard Communication Classes).

In addition, approval to proceed with existing research involving highly toxic materials should be obtained when:

  • members of the laboratory staff become ill, suspect exposure, smell chemicals, or otherwise suspect a failure of engineered safeguards.
  • a new procedure, process or test, is to be untaken, even if it is very similar to older practices;
  • there is a change or substitution of any of the ingredient chemicals in a procedure;
  • there is a substantial change in the amount of chemicals used; review safety practices if the chemcial volume increases more than 20%;
  • there is a failure of any of the equipment used in the process, especially safeguards such as fume hoods or clamp apparatus;  or
  • unexpected test results are obtained. for example when a test result is different than the predicted, a review of how the new result impacts safety practices must be made

Laboratory personnel should contact their department CHO (chemical hygiene officer) or EH&S with any lab related concerns on the above

Q -   Who should attend classes on the Lab Standard regulations?

Answer: For training and compliance purposes, OSHA defines a laboratory as a facility where the "laboratory use of hazardous chemical" occurs. It does NOT include laboratories such as engineering, nursing, computer, or other such "laboratories" where the laboratory use of hazardous chemicals does not occur (see Lab Safety Program).

If you work in a "laboratory" setting that is excluded from the OSHA laboratory definition you need NOT attend.  OSHA also excludes labs where procedures are limited to the use of dip sticks, test strips, and commercially prepared kits.   If there is blood, body-fluid, or patient contact involved, you should attend the annual classes on bloodborne pathogens. 

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Q -  Can chemical containers be stored on shelves above a bench?

Answer: Only small volume containers of non-hazardous chemicals should be stored on elevated shelves.  These include dry powders as well as aqueous solutions of buffers, salts, and other dilute materials.  Stock containers of flammable and corrosive chemicals should always be separated from each other and stored close to the ground.  Use a flammable storage cabinet or the shelf below a chemical fume hood and keep corrosive chemicals in secondary containers (e.g., plastic tray). 

Q -  Can chemicals of different hazard classes be stored within the same cabinet?

Answer: Yes, provided that flammable, corrosive and other hazard class chemicals are segregated by means of secondary containers (i.e., trays).  

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Q -  Can chemicals with high toxicity be used on the open bench?

Answer:  No.  Toxic and highly volatile chemicals (e.g., chloroform, formaldehyde, concentrated acids and bases) should always be handled and manipulated inside a chemical fume hood.  Your Chemical Hygiene Plan should provide a information on materials to be handled in a fume hood.  

Q -   What are some alternative methods to chromic acid for cleaning glassware?

Answer: The use of sodium or potassium dichromate dissolved in concentrated sulfuric acid  (chromic acid) as a cleaning solution presents handling and disposal problems.  Therefore, you are urged to consider selecting an alternative.  One options is the use of the organo-sulfanate detergent called "Micro".

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