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Studio Chemical Safety

Before using any chemical, even if it is something that you have worked with at home or in other situations, it is important to understand what the hazards are and how to work with it safely.  

In order to assess the hazards of a particular substance, both the physical and health hazards of the chemical must be considered. The container label and safety data sheet (SDS) should be reviewed to determine what conditions of use may pose a hazard.  

In March 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised its Hazard Communication Standard to align it with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The revision to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) built on the existing standard, by requiring chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors to follow specific criteria when evaluating the hazardous chemicals and when communicating the hazards through labels and safety data sheets (SDS).  The previous standard required chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors to communicate hazards through Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).  

Chemical manufacturers and distributors are required by OSHA to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to ensure the end-user of chemical products is informed of the hazards associated with the use of the chemical and what safety precautions should be utilized.  The same SDS may be used for several chemicals if they have similar hazards and contents.

Each department must maintain a complete and accurate SDS for each chemical used in the workplace upon the purchase of a chemical.  

SDSs are available electronically from most major manufacturers.  Smaller companies may distribute paper copies with the product.  End users must retain copies of any SDS that they receive, and ensure that studio personnel are granted access to them.  Electronic accessibility of these documents is an acceptable substitute to paper copies only if the personnel have demonstrated the ability to locate the necessary information and there is a backup means for obtaining an SDS in the case that the electronic system fails.

Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) are airborne concentrations that have been set as safety limits for employees for a set period of time (8 hour working day).  OSHA has published Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for many chemicals.  The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), a professional organization, has published Threshold Limit Values (TLVs).  PELs and TLVs, as well as exposure limits published by other countries, may be specified in the SDS.  Employees must be familiar with these terms and limits for the chemicals in use in the work area.  If an employee suspects that their exposure may exceed the OEL, they should contact the Safety Office immediately for exposure monitoring.

Supervisors have the responsibility to ensure all known hazardous chemicals present in the workplace display a precautionary label.  The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) requires the following information be included on manufacturer labels:

  • Chemical Name: Simply identify the product or chemical name.  
  • Signal word: Use to indicate the relative level of the severity of the hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard.  The signal words are “Danger” for more severe hazards and “Warning” for less severe hazards.
  • Hazard statement: These are phrases that describe the nature of the hazardous chemical and the degree of hazard(s).  Examples are: toxic if swallowed, may cause skin irritation.    
  • Pictograms: There are nine different pictograms used to identify hazardous products with symbols.  They convey health, physical, and environmental hazard information assigned to a GHS hazard class and category.
  • Precautionary Statement: Is a phrase that describes recommended measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to or improper storage or handling.   
  • Manufacturer Information: Identifies the manufacturer’s company name, address, and phone number.

labeling guidance document detailing the pictograms and required information is available for review.

If the chemical label on the original container becomes damaged, illegible, or is inadvertently removed from the container, it must be replaced immediately.  The replacement label must include the same information that was initially provided by the manufacture, importer, or distributor.  All labels must be legible, in English, and be prominently displayed on the container.   

Secondary Container Labels   

Chemicals which are transferred from the original container into a different secondary container must be identified by a label on the secondary container.  All secondary containers should use either the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Hazardous Materials Information System (HMIS), or manufacturer’ s label of the appropriate size for the container.  Secondary labels must include the following:

  • Chemical name
  • Date when transferred
  • Associated hazards (toxic, flammable, corrosive, etc.)

NFPA Labels

The NFPA diamond was developed by the National Fire Protection Association to aid emergency responders in recognizing potentially hazardous situations.  Each colored diamond is associated with a different type of hazard and the degree of severity of Health, Flammability, and Instability hazards.  Hazard severity is indicated by a numerical rating that ranges from zero (0) indicating a minimal hazard, to four (4) indicating a severe hazard.  The bottom diamond represents special hazards and has a white background.  The special hazards in use include W, OX, and SA.  The symbol W indicates unusual reactivity with water and is a caution about the use of water in either firefighting or spill control response.  The symbol OX, indicates that the material is an oxidizer.  The symbol SA, indicates that the material is an asphyxiate gas.  Example gases are nitrogen, helium, neon, argon, krypton, or xenon.

HMIS Labels

Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) is a system developed by the National Paint and Coating Association (NPCA) to help identify and provide information about chemical hazards.  The label contains four (4) different colored rectangular shapes that are related to different hazards similar to the NFPA system.  Hazard severity is indicated by a numerical rating that ranges from zero (0) indicating a minimal hazard, to four (4) indicating a severe hazard.  The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) section of the label requires the use of a chart or table to determine which letter code corresponds to appropriate PPE that should be used when working with the chemical.  The HMIS PPE chart should be posted in the work area for quick and easy recognition by employees.  

A major concern in many areas is the proper storage of chemicals.  The best approach to this issue will vary depending on the chemical inventory and storage space available.  To lessen the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals, trained personnel should separate and store all chemicals according to hazard category and compatibility.  In the event of an accident involving a broken container or spill, incompatible chemicals that are stored in close proximity can mix to produce fires, hazardous fumes, and explosions.  Prudent chemical management involves the following processes:

  • Store chemicals in the smallest quantities possible. Excessive purchases of hazardous chemicals invariably result in increased safety risks, compliance tasks, and costs for disposal. 
  • Ensure all chemical containers are properly labeled. Do not remove or deface manufacturer labels. 
  • Secondary containers must be labeled with the required information on the original container OR the product identifier (full chemical name, no abbreviations) AND words, pictures, symbols, or combination thereof, which provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemical and will provide employees with specific information regarding the hazards of the chemical. The date of transfer or solution preparation should also be included on the secondary container label.
  • When storing chemicals on open shelves, always use sturdy shelves that are secured to the wall and contain ¾ inch lips.
  • Do not store liquid chemicals higher than 5 feet, on the floor, in the aisles or areas of egress, or on the benchtop. Designate a storage location away from heat and light and return containers to that location after each use.
  • Store chemicals in compatible cabinets. Acids will corrode metal cabinets, so use an approved acid cabinet.  Store flammable materials in an approved flammable cabinet.  Only explosion proof refrigerators should be used to store flammable chemicals that require cool storage.  Domestic units should not be used to store chemicals as they possess ignition sources that can result in fires and explosions.
  • Do not store chemicals in the fume hood. Excess storage interferes with the air flow and can become a source of hazardous materials discharge as well as a fire hazard.
  • Use unbreakable secondary containers such as bins or bottle jackets for corrosive/hazardous liquids and other high hazard materials.
  • Flammable materials in a quantity greater than 10 gallons must be stored in an approved flammable cabinet.
  • Periodically inspect stored chemical containers for damage and label legibility. Damaged containers should be disposed of.  Illegible labels should be replaced.
  • Label the storage cabinets so areas of higher risk are easily identified (flammable, corrosive, toxic, oxidizer, water reactive, etc.)
  • Store chemicals in compatible storage groups to prevent incompatible materials from reacting. Do not store chemicals in alphabetical order, except within the same storage group. 
  • Always review the SDS to determine compatibility and storage requirements of chemicals

Review the Compatible Storage Group Classification Chart  and contact the Safety Office if you have any questions regarding chemical storage in your area.

A system for maintaining an accurate chemical inventory on campus is essential for compliance with local and state regulations and any applicable building codes.  Supervisors should maintain an up-to-date chemical inventory and a physical chemical inventory must be performed at least annually and submitted to the Safety and Risk Management Office.  The benefits of performing an annual inventory include:

  • Ensures chemicals are stored according to compatibility
  • Checks expiration dates and eliminates unneeded or outdated chemicals
  • Updates the hazard warning signage on the studio door
  • Promotes more efficient use of the space and ensures integrity of shelving and cabinets
  • Replaces illegible or missing labels

The chemical inventory should include the following information:

  • Chemical name and Chemical Abstract Number (CAS)
  • Manufacturer & product number (reorder #, catalog #, etc.)
  • Quantity & location

The University provides non-emergency and initial emergency response services through Campus Police, the Safety and Risk Management Office, and Facilities Operations.  Campus Police provides 24/7 coverage and will contact specific resources as needed.  A list of contact numbers should be posted in a visible area of your work space.  

Where a response will be needed at the time of an emergency, a written plan describing the actions that are to be taken and an emergency contact list for employees must be documented by the studio supervisor.

Types of Incidents

Each area should consider the types of incidents that could have a negative effect on people, property, the environment, and research efforts and participate in planning efforts to mitigate the impact of an emergency and the required response for each situation (i.e. backup power for critical equipment).

  • For emergencies that may impact building integrity and/or harm people, evacuate the immediate area and call 911.
  • For other incidents/accidents that do not pose immediate danger to people or the environment, call the Safety and Risk Management Office to report the incident and illicit assistance as needed.
  • If maintenance support is required, contact Facilities Management.

Chemical Spill Response

In the event of a chemical spill, protection of personnel should be the primary concern, then protection of property.  Many spills are of limited hazard potential and personnel can clean them up safely.  Your area should be equipped to handle small low-hazard spills.  Spill kits with appropriate instructions, PPE, and absorbents must be available so that employees may safely clean up minor chemical spills.  It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that it is stocked with needed supplies, and that all employees know where the kit is located and how to use it.  Employees should be familiar with the hazards of the chemicals they work with and should have a sense of the need for spill clean-up assistance from the Safety Office. 

Chemical Spill Kit: Every area where chemicals are stored or in use should have access to a chemical spill kit for minor spills. The spill kit should include the following:

  • Absorbent material (vermiculite, absorbent pads, etc.)
  • Neutralizers for corrosives or toxics
  • Materials to limit the flow of a spill (absorbent sock/boom)
  • PPE (gloves, safety goggles)
  • Container/bags to collect the hazard spill contents
  • Hazard waste tag/label to identify the contents

Minor Chemical Spills can be handled by staff without assistance following these general guidelines:

  • Avoid breathing vapors from the spill
  • Alert people in the immediate area of the spill
  • If spilled material is flammable turn off ignition and heat sources
  • Reference the SDS for appropriate PPE, spill response, and first aid measures
  • Put on all appropriate PPE
  • Confine spill to small area
  • Use appropriate kit to neutralize and absorb acids and bases
  • Use appropriate kit or spill pads for other chemicals
  • Collect residue, place in appropriate container, label and dispose as chemical waste
  • Clean spill area with water

Some spills may be more hazardous and personnel should not attempt cleanup.  You should evacuate the room and call the Safety and Risk Management Office (828-227-7443) if a spill situation involves any of the following:

  • a respiratory hazard
  • a threat of fire or explosion
  • more than 100 mL of an OSHA regulated chemical carcinogen or a highly toxic chemical
  • more than 1 liter of a volatile or flammable solvent
  • more than 1 liter of a corrosive (acid or base) liquid
  • elemental (liquid) mercury spills

Major chemical spills

There may be little time to shut down procedures and secure activities and materials, so initial procedures should be to close containers and contain the spill if possible and initiate evacuation. 

  • Alert people in the area to evacuate
  • If spilled material is flammable turn off ignition and heat sources
  • Call 911 and notify the Safety and Risk Management Office (x7443)
  • Attend to contaminated persons and remove them from exposure
  • Have a person knowledgeable of the area assist the emergency personnel

Provide the following information when calling for assistance with a chemical spill:

  • Caller’s name and phone number
  • Location of the incident
  • Location to meet the caller in the event that they have to evacuate the premises
  • Identity and quantity of the material spilled, if known, and any odors present
  • Any injuries

The University is required to report any “reportable quantity” releases of hazardous chemicals to the environment, such as releases of compressed gases, outdoor spills, and discharges to the sewers.  The Safety Office must be notified immediately of any release to the environment to ensure that the appropriate notifications are made.

Chemical Exposure

  • Flood exposed area with running water for at least 15 minutes. If in eyes, rinse eyeball and inner surface of eyelid with water, forcibly holding eye open to effectively wash behind eyelids.
  • Remove all contaminated clothing and shoes.
  • If medical attention is needed, proceed to campus Health Services for medical care. Provide medical professionals with SDS sheets to ensure proper first aid and diagnosis.  If immediate medical care is needed call 911.
  • Report the incident to supervisor and complete a Report of Work-related Accident, Injury, or Illness.


Some chemicals have acute exposure effects that may be relieved or minimized by an antidote (i.e. calcium gluconate gel is to be used for first aid in the case of a hydrofluoric acid burn.)  Using an antidote does not negate the need to seek medical attention immediately.  Refer to SDS information to know if antidotes need to be stocked, or contact the Safety and Risk Management Office for guidance.  Periodically check the expiration date for the antidotes to ensure that they will be effective if needed.

Reporting Accidents

The University has incident reporting procedures in place to comply with federal and state regulations.  Incidents resulting in personal injuries to employees, students, and visitors while on University property, or during University employment or activity off campus, must be reported to the Safety and Risk Management Office within 24 hours.

Near miss incidents which do not result in an injury or illness but could have under slightly different circumstances should also be reported to the Safety and Risk Management Office.  Reporting a near miss allows us to determine how and why it occurred and to take action to prevent a similar, or more serious, incident from happening in the future.

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