Chemical Safety

Chemical Safety

This page applies to you if you work with potentially hazardous chemicals in any physical state and in any type of setting, including hazardous chemicals generated as part of a process (e.g., welding fumes). Handling of hazardous chemicals obviously poses risk of occupational injury. In recognition of this risk, OSHA established the Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) and the Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories Standard (29 CFR 1910.1450). Copies of these standards are available on the OSHA web site ( or from EHS. These standards exclude the following:

  • Medical and veterinary devices and products
  • Registered pesticides
  • Cosmetics
  • Foods
  • Tobacco
  • Treated seed
  • Manufactured articles (i.e., fluorescent lamps containing mercury vapor)
  • Biological and radioactive materials

While the standards differ in their technical details, the conceptual approaches are similar enough that UNL has established nearly identical requirements for laboratory and non-laboratory spaces with respect to facility considerations, chemical acquisition, compatible storage, chemical hazard information/communication (Safety Data Sheets, labeling, employee training), and hazard controls (engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment). These common requirements are discussed below.

The content of this page forms the foundation for the Hazard Communication and Chemical Hygiene Plans required by the OSHA standards. Supervisors must supplement this page with the following information/instruction:

  • Building specific emergency evacuation procedures
  • Chemical inventory access and maintenance
  • Specific hazardous chemicals and their locations in the work place
  • Access to and maintenance of Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • Specific standard/safe operating procedures for specific equipment or processes that present unique chemical exposure hazards/risks and which are not adequately addressed by one or more EHS SOP
  • Maintenance of specific records

The fundamental elements of safe chemical use regardless of the work area occupancy classification (laboratory or non-laboratory) are: appropriately designed, operated, and maintained facilities and equipment; engineering controls (such as appropriate ventilation); administrative controls (including training and procedures); and personal protective equipment. These elements are highlighted in the EHS SOP, General Guidance for Chemical Ordering, Receipt, Distribution, Use & Storage, and are summarized below:

Facility Construction/Fixed Equipment/Engineering Controls

Like any other workplace, a chemical use area must be designed and equipped for safe operation. The UNL Design Guidelines for Facilities Construction ( specify minimum structural, mechanical, and electrical specifications and fixtures for laboratories and other chemical use spaces at UNL. Proper operation of engineering controls must be verified at each use. In general, the following facility considerations apply to chemical use areas:

  • Emergency eyewash and shower equipment must be present, in working order, and accessible, particularly in areas where toxic or corrosive chemicals are used. Design requirements are discussed in the EHS SOP, Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment. Occupants should operate eyewashes at least weekly to verify operation and flush lines of particulates and other potential contaminants.
  • In general, exposure to volatile and toxic chemicals and biological aerosols is controlled by using these materials with local ventilation controls. In a laboratory setting, local ventilation is described in the EHS SOP, Laboratory Hood/Cabinet Identification and Use. Snorkel hoods and paint booths are examples of ventilation controls that are common to non-laboratory type areas. Processes in non-laboratory spaces are so varied that a complete discussion is not possible within the context of this page of the Virtual Manual. Simply recognize that a local exhaust ventilation system is generally required when handling volatile hazardous chemicals. The ventilation system must not draw contaminants near the workers breathing zone. Gas cabinets are a specialized local ventilation device that is necessary for toxic, corrosive, and pyrophoric gases.
  • The general heating and ventilation system serving a laboraotry space is designed so that air is "single pass." This means that air exhausted from the space is discharged from the building and not re-circulated. The general ventilation system is also set such that laboratory spaces are slightly negative to non-laboratory adjacent spaces. This helps to ensure that fugitive emissions from laboratory operations do not impact the air quality in non-laboratory spaces.
  • Other unique design features of laboratories often include one or more of the following:
    1. Two exit doors/paths, depending on the configuration and fire classification of the space.
    2. Sufficient electrical outlets to accommodate service needs without the use of extension cords or circuit overloads and Ground Fault Circuit Interruption (GFCI) protection on electrical circuits that are within 6 feet of a water source.
    3. Sinks for hand-washing.
    4. Chemical-resistant and impervious floors and bench tops.
    5. Shut-offs for major utilities located outside of the laboratory and which can be accessed in an emergency.
    6. Physical segregation from non-laboratory, clean spaces (e.g., offices).
    7. Integrated fire suppression systems and portable fire extinguishers of the appropriate class to the hazards of the flammable materials used/stored in the space.
    8. Specialized chemical storage devices, such as NFPA-compliant flammable liquids cabinets, freezers/refrigerators specially designed for the storage of flammable liquids, etc.
    9. Sturdy shelving and furnishings that are designed for the intended load and, when advisable, anchored to ensure stability.
  • As described in the EHS SOP, Chemical Security, basic elements of chemical security include keeping doors locked when chemical use and storage spaces are unoccupied; being alert for strangers or unusual events, activities, or actions; and use of secondary security measures (i.e., locked cabinets, etc.) for particularly hazardous chemicals or those that could be used for illegitimate purposes.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are procedures, policies, and training that are designed to minimize potential for chemical exposures. Many procedures are provided by EHS, as referenced throughout the Virtual Manual. Employees must familiarize themselves with those procedures that are applicable to their work, as well as workplace specific procedures developed/implemented by their supervisors (and which supplement the Virtual Manual). Following are highlights of fundamental administrative controls at UNL.

  • Chemical Hazard Assessment and Risk Minimization Process. As described in the “General Safety and Compliance Information for Everyone” page of the Virtual Manual, identification of hazards and development of plans to mitigate hazards is essential. The EHS SOP titled, Chemical Hazard Assessment & Risk Minimization, and the EHS Web-based training module titled Chemical Hazard Assessment & Risk Minimization provide guidance specific to the risk assessment process as it relates to chemical hazards. Several EHS SOPs for various chemical hazard classes are also available, including:
  • Safety Data Sheets. Chemical manufacturers are required to make Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) available to chemical purchasers. A SDS is specific to a chemical and a manufacturer. The SDS will provide identifying information (i.e., CAS Number, chemical formula, chemical name, etc.); physical properties data (e.g., state- liquid, solid, gas; boiling point and flash point; vapor pressure; pH; density; solubility; etc.); exposure data (i.e., occupational exposure limits; exposure routes; toxicological effects and symptoms of exposure; etc.); and recommendations regarding engineering controls and personal protective equipment. The SDS is the most important source of safe handling information for any given chemical. Every worker should read and understand the SDS for every chemical to which they may be exposed. SDSs must be readily accessible to employees. Supervisors are responsible to inform employees of where and how to access SDSs for their particular work location. Supervisors are encouraged to include this information in written format in their Virtual Manual Supplement.
  • Chemical Labeling. In addition to SDSs, container labels provide another source of chemical hazard information. Labels provided on containers by the manufacturer must not be defaced. Container labeling requirements at UNL vary depending on the nature of the container- transient or durable, and are described in the EHS SOP, Chemical Container Labeling. Container labeling is crucial to hazard communication, as well as compliance with hazardous waste regulations. Supervisors should include information on labeling that is unique to their work location in their Virtual Manual Supplement.
  • Door Placards. As discussed in the General Safety portion of the Virtual Manual, door placards provide the campus community with another source of hazard information.
  • Training. The 4 module EHS web-based Chemical Safety Training teaches participants how to use the information in the SDS and chemical labels to plan for safe chemical handling. For example, participants will learn why the flash point and flammable range are important considerations in the safe handling of flammable liquids. Training must be completed before an employee is assigned to work with hazardous chemicals. EHS has developed alternate Chemical Safety Training for particular campus groups or employees. These modules include the following: Housing Custodial Operations-Chemical and General Safety; Housing Dining Services-Chemical, General and Equipment Safety; Facility and Grounds Maintenance Operations-Chemical and General Safety; Custodial Services-Chemical and General Safety; Visual and Performing Arts-Chemical and General Safety. These targeted training modules operate in lieu of the 4 module Chemical Safety Training but are appropriate only for those persons working in the indicated areas. The EHS Toxicology and Exposure Guidelines supplements the chemical safety training and provides more discussion regarding exposure routes and potential effects of chemical exposure. Various laboratory safety topics have been addressed as part of the Laboratory Safety Colloquium and are available as archive presentations on the EHS web page. Review this section to determine if any of the presentations are applicable to the work that you conduct.
  • Spill Response and Emergencies. The importance of recognizing the potential for inadvertent spills or releases of chemicals cannot be over-emphasized. Adequate emergency equipment must be available and in working order in each work area. This may consist of emergency showers, eye wash stations, spill kits, first aid kits, telephones or alarms, and/or other equipment, as deemed necessary. Emergency equipment must be inspected regularly to ensure that the equipment is accessible, operable, and fit for use. Spill response procedures are provided in the following EHS SOPs: Pre-planning For and Responding to Chemical Spills and Metallic Mercury Spill Procedures. Supervisors should supplement the above general procedures with building/ work location specific emergency evacuation procedures and instruction regarding alarm sounds/locations/ activation. Response to personnel injury is presented in the General Safety section of the Virtual Manual.
  • Housekeeping. Unnecessary clutter and contaminated work surfaces increases the potential for injuries or illnesses; and adverse impacts of a mishap, such as a fire, escalate with poor housekeeping. To minimize risk created by poor housekeeping, implement the following general strategies:

    • Minimize extraneous supplies and equipment on benches, shelves, and the floor.
    • Do not accumulate unnecessary items such as boxes, papers, broken/unwanted equipment, etc.
    • Keep stairways, hallways, passageways/aisles and access to emergency exits and equipment (extinguishers, eye wash/showers, electrical panels, etc.) dry and free of obstruction.
    • When stacking or storing items on shelves, the top of the items must be at least 18" below sprinkler head deflectors.
    • Keep a readily-available and adequately stocked spill kit in the work area. Clean up all small spills immediately.
    • Shelves should be equipped with doors or lips to prevent items from falling. Do not let stored items project beyond the front of shelves or counter tops.
    • Always restrain compressed gas cylinders.
    • Do not use chemical fume hoods as an accumulation space, unless necessary to ensure safe handling (e.g., reactive or toxic gases, stench agents, etc.). If storage in a fume hood is not absolutely necessary, remove all chemicals from the hood and shut it off when not in use.
    • Ensure that all wastes that are not general refuse (e.g., radioactive, chemical, and biohazardous wastes) are prominently labeled and that custodial workers are informed not to remove these materials from the lab.
    • The EHS SOP, Laboratory Decommissioning describes the steps that must be taken when vacating or changing uses of a laboratory space.
    • If you are storing liquefied petroleum gas cylinders see the EHS SOP, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Portable Cylinders.
  • Chemical Acquisition. Pre-planning prior to chemical purchase is conducive to safe handling after receipt. The purchaser must consider whether UNL has restricted the purchase and possession of the chemical because it is subject to certain federal regulations. See EHS SOP, Chemicals of Concern- United States Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards. Transport of chemicals by a commercial carrier is subject to certain regulations including periodic training of the person preparing and offering the package for transport and special packaging and labeling provisions. Shipping regulations are covered in the Virtual Manual page titled, Shipping, Import/Export & Transfer Requirements.
  • Chemical Inventory and Storage. A current inventory must be maintained for each work area where hazardous chemicals are used or stored. Although OSHA's Lab Standard does not require an inventory, maintaining an inventory for all types of locations is a good practice and required under National Fire Protection Association standards. This is the responsibility of the supervisor (or delegate). Some UNL departments also have specific inventory rules. At a minimum, the inventory must contain the exact name of chemical as given on the label and/or SDS. Chemicals must be stored with regard to compatibility and physical hazards. For example, oxidizers must be physically segregated from organics. See EHS SOP, Compatiple Chemical Storage.
  • Common Laboratory Chemicals. The following EHS SOPs address those chemicals with unique properties or hazards that are commonly used in UNL laboratories.

Personal Protective Equipment

Prior to using any chemical, it is important to select the appropriate type and ensemble of PPE to protect against exposure. PPE selection must be consistent with a thorough and accurate hazard assessment as described in EHS SOP, Personal Protective Equipment for Chemical Exposures. At a minimum, laboratory appropriate PPE will generally consist of eye protection, gloves, and a lab coat/outer garment (flame resistant if fire is a hazard). PPE recommendations are often listed in the chemical manufacturer’s SDS. Also, consult chemical resistance information documented by the specific PPE manufacturer. For example, chemical resistance information for Ansell gloves is available on the EHS web page at: Chemical Resistance Glove Guides: Ansell 8th Edition. Appropriate PPE must be made available to employees and generally at no cost to them. To ensure effectiveness of assigned PPE, train employees in its proper use and care; maintain PPE in clean and good condition; store in a protected area away from environmental degradation and contamination; and promptly repair or replace damaged PPE. The web-based training module for Personal Protective Equipment will provide general selection and care guidance.

Exposure Monitoring and Medical Surveillance

Exposure monitoring in laboratories is not usually necessary or practical as long as ventilation systems and other engineering controls are working correctly, and employees are using proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and adhering to administrative controls. This is because, by definition, laboratories use small quantities of chemicals. Exposure monitoring in other types of locations may be appropriate if toxicologically significant quantities of chemicals are used. Regardless of the type of space (laboratory or non-laboratory), monitoring may be necessary if an employee experiences symptoms of exposure, or there are other reasons to believe that contaminant levels are above or nearing applicable exposure thresholds. Contact EHS if one or more of these conditions exist. Detection of potential exposure is discussed in EHS Chemical Safety Training.

Chemical Disposal Considerations Unique to Laboratories

In general, unwanted and spent chemicals must be disposed via EHS as described previously in the Virtual Manual section titled General Safety and Compliance for Everyone. Some unique disposal considerations pertaining to laboratories are addressed in the following EHS SOPs:

Roles and Responsibilities

The UNL Injury and Illness Prevention Program describes the roles and responsibilities assigned to various levels from the Chancellor to individual employees, as well as departments. Within the context of OSHA's Laboratory and Hazard Communication Standards, the Director for Environmental Health and Safety (or delegate) serves as the campus Chemical Hygiene/Hazard Communication Officer. To summarize roles and responsibilities relative to the Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) and Hazard Communication Plan (HCP):

  • Chemical Hygiene/Hazard Communication Officer/EHS
    1. Develop and maintain the general CHP/HCP (Virtual Manual).
    2. Develop and maintain foundational chemical safety training.
    3. Provide technical support, consultation, and resources related to exposure evaluation and control.
    4. Maintain EHS generated records (i.e., exposure monitoring, training, etc.).
  • Principal Investigators/Supervisors:
    1. Notify employees under their supervision of the location and nature of hazardous chemicals to which they may be exposed.
    2. Develop and maintain work area-specific information supplementing the basic Virtual Manual; and ensure all affected workers under their supervision are trained to the procedures and understand how and where to access such procedures.
    3. Ensure training of all affected employees under their supervision, including completion of EHS Chemical Safety Training and training regarding work area specific procedures and features (including location and function/attributes of emergency equipment and emergency notification devices).
    4. Ensure the availability of SDSs for all hazardous chemicals in the workplace and inform employees of the method and means for accessing them.
    5. Inform employees of specific chemical container labeling mechanisms used in the workplace.
    6. Ensure availability, adequate functioning, and maintenance of engineering controls and appropriate PPE.
    7. Implement and enforce adherence to policies and procedures.
  • Workers
    1. Complete Chemical Safety Training.
    2. Consistently and properly use and adhere to all engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment controls.
    3. Report hazardous conditions, occupational injuries/illnesses, and suspected exposures to supervisor.
    4. Review safety literature (e.g., SDS and procedures) before handling hazardous chemicals; seek guidance from EHS or supervisor when unsure of how to protect against hazards.
    5. Label containers of hazardous chemicals under their control.

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