Chemical Hazard Communication (HazCom)

The UW is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, students and visitors. Individuals who work with or near hazardous substances need to be aware of the identity, potential physical and health hazards, and the safe work practices that can minimize exposure. To assure individual health and safety, and meet regulatory requirements, the UW developed the Chemical Hazard Communication (HazCom) Program to address how to classify chemical hazards, and communicate the hazards and safeguards required to protect individuals from exposure to those hazards.

The HazCom program describes the responsibilities of department managers, supervisors, principal investigators (PIs), employees, students, contractors, visitors and EH&S. Protection from hazards provided by the program is meant to be consistent, whether in a chemical laboratory or in non-laboratory workplaces such as shops, custodial and maintenance services and transportation facilities.

Supervisors and PIs, regardless of where they work, are required to train their employees on the hazards of the chemicals used in the workplace. Chemical hazard information for all workplaces is covered under the Chemical Hazard Communication Program written guide.

UW personnel who work in laboratories should refer to the Laboratory Safety Manual for hazard communication and additional requirements specific for laboratory chemical use.

The major components of the HazCom Program are to:

  • Assign program responsibilities.
  • Identify hazardous chemicals in work areas.
  • Maintain a chemical inventory in the online MyChem database system for each work area.
  • Ensure employees have ready access to safety data sheets (SDSs) for each chemical in the inventory.
  • Label chemical containers.
  • Assess chemical hazards and develop safe use procedures.
  • Train employees in work task hazards and safe work practices.
  • Document chemical hazard assessments, safe use procedures and training.

Hazardous chemicals include, but are not limited to, chemicals, paints, adhesives, cleaning products, disinfecting agents, compressed gases, art supplies and pesticides.

Some examples of non-laboratory work areas where hazardous chemicals may be used, transported or stored include:

  • Facilities/maintenance shops and supply rooms

  • Art, ceramics, metal and glass studios

  • Paint spray booths

  • Teaching areas

  • Vehicle maintenance and garages

  • Welding areas

  • Custodial operations

  • Clinics for patient care

  • Pesticide use areas indoors or outdoors

  • Research areas that are not laboratories (field work, animal care areas, chemical prep rooms)

The HazCom Program applies to all University employees, students and visitors at all University locations including the Seattle campus, UW Bothell and UW Tacoma, UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, and all other University-owned property, University-leased space, and field locations under the control of University operations and staff where chemicals are used, transported, stored or manufactured.

Specific hazard communication regulations also apply to chemical manufacturers, distributors and importers. The University must comply with these regulations when its researchers or others develop a new chemical or chemical product, including the development of safety data sheets (SDSs) and chemical labeling.

What you need to know about HazCom

What you can do to stay safe

Employees, students:

  • Always follow proper procedures when working with chemicals.
  • Always use designated controls, safe work practices and proper personal protective equipment when working with chemicals
  • Ask if unsure about a chemical’s identity, hazard or procedure
  • Report spills or accidents immediately to supervisor
  • Know accident and spill procedures and when to call for help
  • Suggest corrective actions if you see potentially hazardous conditions or procedures

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Advice on communicating chemical hazard information
  • Consultations on engineering and administrative controls, and safe work practices
  • Recommendations on PPE when working with chemicals
  • Advice on specific HazCom training for specific areas
  • Help with updating chemical inventories in MyChem system so all employees and students have ready access to current SDSs

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The GHS pictograms are part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) established in 2015 in hazard communication regulations. They show specific chemical hazards and apply to the labeling of chemical containers and for workplace hazard warnings. See the chart below.

Hazard Communication Standard Pictograms and Hazards


SDSs may arrive in a chemical delivery, or EH&S may receive them directly. Employees need immediate access to the updated SDSs as soon as they are received. The easiest method to ensure people have access to the current SDS is to use MyChem. Attach an electronic copy of the updated SDS to your chemical inventory entry. EH&S is notified when this occurs and pulls the document into our system library. In the meantime, employees still have access to the attached SDS via your MyChem inventory.

You may not need to print SDSs and maintain SDS binders. It’s hard to keep binders updated. If you keep the MyChem inventory updated and attach updated SDSs when you receive them, this will simplify compliance. If you are concerned with staff finding an SDS quickly in MyChem, consider printing the inventory, and then train staff to use it in SDS searches. Each chemical in inventory has a chemical ID. Anyone with a UW NetID has immediate access to search MyChem for SDSs. Inventory access is not necessary for an SDS search.


There is no need for you to keep old SDSs. EH&S keeps chemical inventory records on microfiche to meet the records retention requirement.


Any element, chemical compound, or mixture of elements and/or compounds. Exposure to chemicals can be in a variety of forms such as: solids, liquids, gases, vapors, dusts, mists or fumes.

Any chemical that is classified as a physical hazard, or a health hazard, a simple asphyxiant, combustible dust, pyrophoric gas or HNOC. For example, compressed gas is considered a physical hazard and wood dust is considered a health hazard.

A chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence that acute or chronic health effects may occur.

"Hazards Not Otherwise Classified" or HNOC is an adverse physical or health effect that does not fit in any defined hazard class in the Hazard Communication Standard.

A workplace where relatively small amounts of hazardous substances are used on a nonproduction basis.

A chemical that is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects: explosive; flammable (gases, aerosols, liquids, or solids); oxidizer (liquid, solid or gas); self-reactive; pyrophoric (liquid or solid); self-heating; organic peroxide; corrosive to metal; gas under pressure; or in contact with water emits flammable gas.

SDS (formerly MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheet) is a document developed by a chemical manufacturer, distributor or importer that contains hazard information for the chemical user. The information includes: product identification, use restrictions, hazards identification, chemical ingredients, first-aid measures, fire-fighting measures, accidental release measures, handling & storage information, physical & chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, and toxicological information. SDSs are in a standardized, 16-section format and found online in the UW MyChem inventory system, and can also be obtained on the internet from chemical suppliers.


Occupational Safety and Health

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Reference Files