Chemical Safety

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Copyright: 2024. The Health & Safety Wiki pages are a publication of the Health & Safety Network of the American Institute for Conservation.

Some of the information included on this wiki may be out of date, particularly with regard to toxicological data and regulatory standards. Also, because new information on safety issues is continually published, resources outside of AIC should be consulted for more specific information.

Contributors: Kerith Koss Schrager, Adrienne Gendron

All conservation laboratories and studios contain materials which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers hazardous. A hazardous material is defined by OSHA as any chemical which poses a physical or health hazard.

Chemicals must always be handled according to institutional, local, state and federal regulations.

Personal Protective Equipment[edit | edit source]

Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and handling protocols should be utilized when working with chemicals. See the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) page on this Wiki for more information. Of particular interest is the The Health & Safety Network's PPE Chemical Protective Material Selection Guide, created to help conservators select the appropriate material for chemical use based on data from the Quick Selection Guide to Chemical Protective Clothing.

Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP)[edit | edit source]

A Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) is a written program stating the policies, procedures and responsibilities that protect workers from the health hazards associated with the hazardous chemicals used in that particular workplace.

For instructions on creating a plan for your laboratory see:

Safety Data Sheets[edit | edit source]

The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs) to communicate the hazards of hazardous chemical products. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) and Lab Safety Standard (1910.1450) both require that SDSs be available during to employees when they are in their work area.

Conservators should obtain SDSs for every chemicals they are using and the SDS must be specific to each chemical used in the workplace (i.e., from the same manufacturer as the chemical being used).

Update to Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication[edit | edit source]

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) (29 CFR 1910.1200(g)), revised in 2012, requires that the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (formerly MSDSs or Material Safety Data Sheets) for each hazardous chemical to downstream users to communicate information on these hazards. The information contained in the SDS is largely the same as the MSDS, except now the SDSs are required to be presented in a consistent user-friendly, 16-section format. This brief provides guidance to help workers who handle hazardous chemicals to become familiar with the format and understand the contents of the SDSs.

The SDS includes information such as the properties of each chemical; the physical, health, and environmental health hazards; protective measures; and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical. The information contained in the SDS must be in English (although it may be in other languages as well). In addition, OSHA requires that SDS preparers provide specific minimum information as detailed in Appendix D of 29 CFR 1910.1200. The SDS preparers may also include additional information in various section(s).

Sections 1 through 8 contain general information about the chemical, identification, hazards, composition, safe handling practices, and emergency control measures (e.g., fire fighting). This information should be helpful to those that need to get the information quickly. Sections 9 through 11 and 16 contain other technical and scientific information, such as physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, toxicological information, exposure control information, and other information including the date of preparation or last revision. The SDS must also state that no applicable information was found when the preparer does not find relevant information for any required element.

The SDS must also contain Sections 12 through 15, to be consistent with the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), but OSHA will not enforce the content of these sections because they concern matters handled by other agencies. (OSHA Safety Data Sheets)

For more information on Safety Data Sheets see:

Labeling[edit | edit source]

OSHA requires that all hazardous chemicals be labeled with an appropriate warning. The purpose of these warning labels is to let employees know the identity of the hazardous chemical, what its hazards are, what level of risk it poses, if it has any special hazards, and what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed when handling the chemical. These warning labels also alert emergency personnel as to what dangerous materials are present in an emergency situation. Of all the OSHA regulations, this requirement is one of the most frequently cited during an OSHA inspection. Since the lack of appropriate labeling of hazardous chemicals can be easy for an OSHA inspector to observe, it is one of the most obvious infractions during an inspection. Labeling is a relatively easy and inexpensive task. Proper labeling of all hazardous chemicals should be among the highest safety priorities in a conservation laboratory.

GHS-Compliant Labels[edit | edit source]

According to the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication,containers must be labeled with the following information:

  • Chemical name
  • Signal word (danger or warning)
  • Hazard statements (ex: “Flammable liquid and vapor. Causes skin irritation. May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways. May cause drowsiness or dizziness.”)
  • Corresponding pictograms for the hazard statements (flame, exclamation mark, torso with starburst)
  • Precautionary statements (prevention and response measures)
  • Name, address, and phone number of manufacturer

Label Templates[edit | edit source]

Labels that are compliant with the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication and will fit small, secondary containers.

Note: some adjustment of margins may be needed for your printer.
These labels may need be edited to reflect the safety information provided by the manufacturer of your specific chemical.

Pre-made label templates for commonly used chemicals:

Label templates with blank sections for filling in: also offers free PDF downloads of pre-made label templates for common chemicals such as isopropanol and acetone.

Commercially Available Labels for Purchase[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Storage[edit | edit source]

Storage requirements depend upon local and state regulations, insurance requirements, and building and fire codes and can be dependent upon the capabilities of your specific workspace, such as square footage, exit locations, and safety shower locations. Consult an environmental health and safety specialist, industrial hygienist, and/or your local fire department for reliable and accurate information information about proper chemical storage in your area.

In general, the following guidelines are a good starting point (adapted from Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals 1995 and OSHA):

  • Store flammable chemicals in an approved flammable-safe storage containers and cabinets.
  • Store acids in a dedicated acid cabinet.
  • Separate chemicals into compatible groups, such as by chemical family - do not store chemicals alphabetically.
  • Consult chemical incompatibility charts to determine ideal storage groupings. Oxidizers and reducing agents should be stored separately.
  • Create a chemical inventory with precise locations (ex. cabinet and shelf number) of each material; always return the chemical to the same location. Airtable is an excellent free tool for this purpose.
  • Label all containers with a date received and date opened.
  • Open shelving used for storage should be secured to the wall and have raised lips. In earthquake-prone areas, chemicals should ideally be stored in a secondary container or tray to contain spillage if bottles break.
  • Avoid storing chemicals on bench tops, inside fume hoods, on the floor, or in areas with direct exposure to heat or sunlight.
  • Chemicals that require cool storage should be stored in laboratory-grade, flammable-safe refrigerators and freezers. Do not store food or beverages in laboratory refrigerators.
  • Certain corrosive chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, can etch through glass and can lead to a permanently sealed container. If decantation is necessary, use a secondary container composed of the same material used for the original shipping container (ex. if the manufacturer sent the material in a polyethylene bottle, use polyethylene for your secondary container).
  • Avoid purchasing larger quantities of chemicals than are needed for a specific project.

Important statement on oily rags:

Cloth materials that have been in contact with paints, certain paint mediums, and certain solvents have the potential to catch fire. This is because some drying oils, animal-based oil products, essential oils, and some non-drying oils can undergo oxidation reactions that generate heat. These should never be placed in dryers. Store in a flammable-proof container.

Resources[edit | edit source]

1995. Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals. National Academy Press. This resource has helpful information on chemical storage and chemical incompatibility charts.

OSHA. National Research Council Recommendations Concerning Chemical Hygiene in Laboratories (Non-Mandatory). More in-depth information on chemical storage.

Waste Disposal[edit | edit source]

The moment you open and use a can of solvent you are a waste generator. Conservation laboratories might only produce 10–15 gallons of waste each year and private conservators only one quart, but the improper disposal of even small quantities may cause health, safety, and legal problems.

Although conservators are well aware of the dangers involved in working with chemicals on a daily basis and articles have been written suggesting methods for proper storage, most conservators do not know how to go about safely disposing of these chemicals after having used them. Some of these materials are highly toxic and many are incompatible when mixed together.

Proper disposal requires knowledge of federal and state regulations applying to the disposal of hazardous materials. It is incumbent upon conservators to contact their state and local officials to determine exactly what regulations apply in their instance, because the conservator, as a waste stream generator, bears the responsibility for ensuring that their waste is dealt with in a safe and environmentally sound manner. The regulations can be quite complicated; thus, this section is just a brief introduction into the issues of handling hazardous waste, and serves as a brief guide for the conservator.

The H&S Network Guide "From Cradle to Grave: Waste Management for Conservators" is an excellent resource on understanding waste management.

Chemical Spills[edit | edit source]

Regulations on chemical spills are enforced by OSHA, the EPA, and state legislation. Consult your state's regulations for accurate information on handling chemical spills.

Each spill must be individually assessed for the level of hazard it poses. If the spill does not pose a significant health and safety hazard to workers, it does not constitute an emergency response and may be handled by the institution or business. A spill response plan for handling chemical spills should be put in place and staff should receive regular training on these procedures. This should include regular inspection of work areas to identify potential spill hazards, designated roles for employees in the event of a spill, and a list of people to contact in the event of a spill. Laboratories should also have the following materials on hand:

  • spill kits (commercially available)
  • mops
  • PPE (masks, safety goggles, gloves, shoe covers, Tyvek suits)
  • absorbent materials

If a spill does pose significant health and safety risks to workers, it must be handled by HAZWOPER-trained personnel. HAZWOPER is OSHA's set of standards involving Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. The flowchart below provides guidance on whether a spill incident qualifies as an emergency response under HAZWOPER.

OSHA Hazwoper Chart

Resources[edit | edit source]

Special Topics[edit | edit source]

Pigments[edit | edit source]

Hazards of Metals and Metal Compounds Table
H&S References for Pigment Health Hazards Chart
H&S Pigment Guide Toxicity Chart