Toolbox Talk: Hazard Communication

By Published On: June 21, 2022

Hazard Communication

As shipping and transportation around the world has evolved, the need to provide a single set of harmonized criteria for chemicals needed to change as well. In 2003 the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, for short we call this GHS.

GHS is designed to be a simple to understand, yet thorough description of a chemical. In 2009 OSHA revised its regulations for Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to meet the criteria of the GHS. Today, buying and using products from other countries has become safer with these standards. 

Improved Quality and Consistency

Rather than leaving it up to the manufacturer to tell the general public what the hazards could be, and where to find that information. The GHS provides a script for how to format the information and what it should look like.

  • Hazard Classification: Provides specific criteria for classification of health hazards
  • Labels: Manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels that include harmonized words, pictograms, and hazard statements 
  • Safety Data Sheets: Now have a specific 16 section format, no matter what the language or origin for quick reference to safety information

Hazard Communication Standard Pictogram

The HCS requires pictograms to alert users of the chemical hazards they may be exposed to. Each pictogram is designed to be eye-catching and must consist of a symbol on a white background framed with a red border. Consistent hazard marking throughout all industries and reading abilities. 

The images below are the 9 commonly used HCS pictograms.

Standardized Labeling

Along with the pictogram, labels are required to have a signal word, hazard and precautionary statement, the product identifier, and a supplier identification.

Safety Data Sheets

A common misconception is to call these MSDS, (Material Safety Data Sheets) prior to 2009 that was correct. With the changes to the HCS and also the introduction of Musculoskeletal Disorders, we now call them Safety Data Sheets (SDS) 

These data sheets should be provided by the manufacturer or importer to each individual purchasing the product. Employers can keep these data sheets electronically if the employees can produce them easily within 15 minutes. In the case of an emergency, a hard copy loads much faster than spotty wifi or cell service. 

SDS sheets have 16 specific headings that include:

  • Identification
  • Hazard(s) identification
  • Composition/information on ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Fire-fighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and Storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations


The reason it is important to keep hazard communication uniform is to make training staff easier, to help first aid diagnose faster, and to minimize the risk of unknown substances. Know what you are working with and protect yourself. Chemical injuries are sever and difficult to recover from.


Here are a few more Toolbox Talks related to this topic: First Aid, Lead Poisoning, Burn Hazards and Prevention

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