Lab Safety

Identifying Chemical Hazards

Anyone working with chemicals must understand the hazards associated with them. Chemical manufacturers are required to make that information available on the product label and material safety data sheet (MSDS).


All hazardous chemical containers are required to be labeled with the chemical name and hazard warnings. The original manufacturers label should be kept in-tact until the bottle has been emptied. When the chemical is transferred to a secondary container, including bottles, flasks, vials, etc., it must be clearly labeled with their contents and warnings. Additional labeling requirements can be found in the Chemical Hygiene Plan and the Labeling Guidelines sheet.

Material Safety Data Sheets

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard requires manufacturers or distributors of hazardous materials to provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), to the purchaser of the product. GVSU must keep MSDS's for every chemical used in the workplace. The MSDS's must be accessible to all personnel during their work hours.

Currently, each lab supervisor and PI are responsible for their own MSDS's. GVSU's MSDS database can be found by clicking HERE.

A typical MSDS will contain the following information:

Manufacturer The name, address, and emergency contact information of the manufacturer should be clearly identified in the first section
Product Identification The chemical name, synonyms, chemical formula
Hazardous Ingredients All hazardous constituents present in more than 1% of the contents must be listed, typically with the CAS #. Often this section will include OSHA permissible exposure limits for the chemical.
Physical Data Boiling & melting points, vapor pressure & density, evaporation rate, appearance, specific gravity, % volatile, etc.
Fire and Explosion Data Flashpoint, upper & lower explosive limits, firefighting precautions
Reactivity Data Incompatible materials, stability, polymerization
Health Hazards This section defines the medical signs and symptoms that may be encountered with normal exposure or overexposure to this material or its components. Toxicity of the substance may also be presented, usually as LD50 or LC 50 (see OSHA Health Hazard Definitions) is the dose or airborne concentration of a substance which will cause the death of half the experimental animals. Health hazard information may also distinguish the effects of acute (short term) and chronic (long-term) exposure as well as carcinogenicity
Emergency Response First aid for eye, skin, respiratory and digestive exposure and spill response procedures are generally provided, along with notes to the physician if necessary.
Protective Equipment Proper gloves, eye protection, clothing, respirators, ventilation or other equipment necessary for safe use.


If a manufacturer's MSDS seems vague or unclear, contact Lab Safety for additional assistance in identifying the hazards.

Online Resources

Most chemical manufacturers maintain MSDS's for their products on their websites. There are a number of searchable MSDS databases on the internet, however, be cautious if using these. The MSDS on file should be from the same manufacturer as your chemical, even if similar ones are available, and it should be the most recent version. It's best to contact the manufacturer or supplier directly.

If the label and MSDS don't provide enough information, there are a number of public databases that can be searched for chemical hazards. They include...

Page last modified September 4, 2014