Which are good resources to help you identify hazard information on specific chemicals stored in your laboratory?

Working with hazardous chemicals is an inherent part of many laboratory settings. Universities, industrial facilities, government agencies, and other organizations often require the use of chemicals that can pose serious health and safety hazards if not properly handled and stored. As a result, it is critically important for everyone working in these environments to fully understand the specific hazards of the substances they are using so they can take appropriate precautions. This article will provide an overview of some excellent resources laboratory personnel can utilize to look up essential hazard information on the chemicals present in their workplace.

Safety Data Sheets

The foundational resource for learning about the hazards of a chemical is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) – sometimes still referred to as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). SDSs are documents, provided by chemical manufacturers and distributors, that outline the physical, health, environmental, handling, storage, and disposal hazards associated with a product. They also recommend exposure limits, personal protective equipment, and emergency response procedures. SDSs are organized into easy-to-navigate sections that allow workers to quickly lookup the specific information they need. Some key sections include:

Section 1: Identification

This section provides details on the chemical identity, product name, manufacturer, recommended uses, and emergency contact information.

Section 2: Hazard(s) Identification

Here you can find an overview of the chemical’s hazards, its classification according to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, applicable hazard symbols, signal words, hazard statements, and precautionary statements.

Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients

The ingredients of mixtures and their concentrations by weight are listed here.

Section 4: First-Aid Measures

This section outlines the initial care that should be provided if the chemical comes into contact with eyes and skin or is inhaled or ingested.

Section 5: Fire-Fighting Measures

Details on the chemical’s flammability, extinguishing media, specific hazards, and fire-fighting equipment are described here.

Section 6: Accidental Release Measures

Procedures for containing, cleaning up, and responding to spills are covered in this section.

Section 7: Handling and Storage

Guidance on safe handling procedures and storage requirements, like ventilation and container materials, is provided here.

Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

OSHA permissible exposure limits, ACGIH threshold limit values, other exposure guidelines, and recommended ventilation controls, respiratory protection, protective clothing, and more are outlined here.

Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties

Critical physical and chemical data, like boiling and freezing points, solubility, molecular weight, color, odor, etc., are given in this section.

Section 10: Stability and Reactivity

Conditions contributing to instability or reactivity and incompatible materials the chemical must avoid are described here.

Section 11: Toxicological Information

This section includes data on the various health effects the chemical can cause if inhaled, ingested, or if it comes into contact with eyes and skin. Carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, and specific target organ toxicity are also addressed here.

Section 12: Ecological Information

Information on the chemical’s environmental toxicity to aquatic and terrestrial organisms is summarized here.

Section 13: Disposal Considerations

Proper methods to safely dispose of or recycle the chemical and its container are outlined here.

Section 14: Transport Information

Details on hazard classes, packing groups, and other markings required for shipping the chemical by road, air, rail, or sea are listed here.

Section 15: Regulatory Information

This section identifies the chemical safety, storage, and handling regulations that apply to the product.

Section 16: Other Information

The date the SDS was prepared or revised is indicated here.

SDSs provide laboratory personnel with the comprehensive hazard communication tool needed to safely handle chemicals and respond to exposure incidents. They should always be consulted before beginning work with a new substance and should be readily accessible in the laboratory in case quick reference is needed.

Chemical Container Labels

While SDSs provide in-depth hazard information, chemical container labels offer laboratory workers an at-a-glance summary of a substance’s identity and the main precautions needed when handling it. Trained laboratory personnel should always take a close look at chemical labels before use to reinforce the key hazard warnings and remind themselves of proper procedures. Commercial chemical suppliers are required by OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard to include the following information on shipped container labels:

  • Product identifier (chemical name)
  • Signal word – “Danger” or “Warning”
  • Hazard statement(s) describing the chemical’s hazards
  • Precautionary statement(s) outlining protective measures
  • Pictograms (symbols) depicting hazards

For example, a container label may utilize an exclamation point pictogram, “Warning” signal word, and statements like “Causes skin and eye irritation” and “Wear protective gloves and eye protection” to summarize the main precautions laboratory workers should take when using the substance.

Chemicals produced within the laboratory for use as reagents or other purposes must also bear appropriate GHS hazard warning labels created by lab personnel. It is unacceptable to have any chemical containers, commercial or in-house, that are unlabeled or only exhibit faded, illegible manufacturer labels. Containers should display durable labels that can withstand the laboratory environment and clearly communicate necessary precautions through statements, pictograms, and other information. Maintaining high-quality labels supports a culture of safety and regulatory compliance.

Chemical Reference Resources

There are many additional chemical information resources laboratory personnel can consult beyond SDSs and bottle labels to identify hazards. Some of the top options to consider include:

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards

This mobile guide published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conveniently summarizes key chemical hazard data and exposure levels for thousands of substances commonly encountered in industrial operations. Information like chemical and physical properties, incompatibilities, exposure routes, and recommended exposure limits are included for chemicals like acids, solvents, metals, pesticides, and more.


ChemIDplus is a free online resource maintained by the National Library of Medicine that provides fast access to over 400,000 chemical identification records. Users can search for a chemical by name or identification number to pull up links to information in HSDB, ChemACX, PubMed, and other reputable sources on substances. Records include environmental fate data, exposure standards, handling procedures, emergency medical treatment needs, and toxicological overviews.


An extensive collection of toxicology and hazardous chemical databases are available through TOXNET, a National Library of Medicine web resource. Of particular interest to laboratory personnel are ChemIDplus, HSDB (Hazardous Substances Data Bank), and the Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS®). Combined, these resources provide broad access to chemical hazard identification data.

Safety Library Services

Numerous academic libraries provide safety literature services that grant laboratory personnel access to standards documents, codes of practice, and other resources useful for identifying chemical hazards. These collections are often available upon request or online through the library website. Librarians can also assist with expert literature searches on specific chemical hazards.

Chemical Safety Library

The School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech hosts this extensive library focused on laboratory chemical safety information and regulations. Holdings include data on proper chemical storage, waste disposal, toxicity profiles, legal requirements, risk management, accident case studies, and handling procedures for thousands of substances. Much of the collection is available electronically. Interlibrary loan services are also provided.

Chemical Manufacturer Websites

Reputable chemical producers offer a variety of hazard identification resources on their company websites. These include downloadable SDSs for their product lines, safety data sheets, technical bulletins on proper chemical handling, safety training videos, articles on recent regulatory changes affecting chemical use, and more. Personnel should leverage these free resources when working with chemicals from major suppliers.

Key Resources for Identifying Laboratory Chemical Hazards
Resource Information Provided Format
Safety Data Sheets In-depth hazard data on specific chemicals Printed documents, PDFs, online databases
Chemical Container Labels Condensed hazard warnings for specific chemicals Printed labels on chemical containers
NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards Physical, health, and exposure data summaries for thousands of workplace chemicals Print guide, mobile app, online
ChemIDplus Access to identification data and toxicology resources for 400,000+ chemicals Online database
TOXNET Suite of toxicology and hazardous chemical databases Online portal
Safety Library Services Access to standards, codes, and literature on chemical hazards Physical libraries, interlibrary loan
Chemical Safety Library Collection focused on laboratory chemical safety and regulations Physical and online library
Chemical Manufacturer Websites SDSs, safety bulletins, and articles for commercial chemical products Online


Working safely with potentially hazardous chemicals in laboratory environments demands access to accurate, in-depth information on the substances being handled and awareness of appropriate precautions. SDSs provide personnel with the foundation of data needed to understand chemical hazards and response measures. Labels offer at-a-glance reminders of required safeguards. Beyond these resources, the NIOSH Pocket Guide, ChemIDplus, TOXNET, safety libraries, chemical manufacturer websites, and more make a wealth of supporting hazard identification data readily available. Personnel should leverage these many options when researching chemicals present in their workspaces and determining the best protocols for storage, handling, and emergency response. Staying fully informed is key to promoting daily laboratory safety.

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