Hazard Communication / Handling Chemicals

Chemical exposure can cause or contribute to serious health issues including cancer, heart problems, damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and lungs, burns, and rashes, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Some chemicals also can cause fires, explosions, and other accidents. Landscape-industry workers encounter chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers and things such as paint, propane, kerosene, cleaning solvents, and welding fumes.

An effective hazard communication program can protect employees from harmful exposure to these chemicals.

Checklist for Employers and Supervisors:

  • Develop a written hazard communication program. Federal OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard requires you to do this if hazardous chemicals are present at your company’s worksites. As part of the program, you must provide education and training to employees, maintain current safety data sheets (SDS) for all chemicals employees are required to use, ensure chemical containers are properly labeled and keep an up-to-date log of all hazardous chemicals used. Include the hazard communication program in the workplace analysis segment of your company’s written safety and health program.

  • Assign responsibility for coordinating the hazard communication to a particular person. This person should designate other staff members to be responsible for particular activities, such as training.

  • Train employees who might be exposed to hazardous chemicals. Training must occur before the initial assignment to work with a hazardous chemical and whenever the hazard changes. OSHA’s training requirements are not met solely by giving employees SDSs to read. Training must explain the hazards of each chemical as well as how workers can protect themselves and should include opportunities for employees to ask questions and for the trainer to ensure they understand the information. Training must be conducted in a manner and language employees understand, and you must train temporary and season al workers as well as long-term employees.

  • Document all training in writing. Have employees sign a logbook containing a description of training, the date, location, and trainer’s name. Keep these logs on file.

  • Ensure proper labels are prominently displayed on chemical containers. Labels must be in English, and other languages can be displayed in addition. Manufacturers and importers are required to provide labels with: product identifier, signal word, pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statements, and the name, address and phone number of a responsible party. As the employer, you can use the same label or an alternative that contains, at a minimum, the product identifier and general information concerning hazards. Employees must have access to complete hazard information.

  • Inspect labels regularly. Make sure information is legible and not faded, washed off or removed in any way. Re-label containers as needed.

  • Designate someone to read the labels of all new chemical shipments. Labels of chemicals your company regularly uses should be read as well. The dilution rate, PPE required or other instructions might have changed based on new regulations or product reviews, and your company will be in violation if it does not update its practices.

  • Store SDSs at all company facilities and in a standard location in all company vehicles or another location at every jobsite. You can provide electronic access to SDSs through smartphone apps or online services; however, you must have a back-up system in place in case of a power outage, equipment failure or other disruption of access to the electronic system. You must also train workers to use the electronic system and make sure they can obtain hard copies of SDSs. In an emergency, hard copies of SDSs must be immediately available to medical personnel.

  • Provide emergency eyewash stations. Per federal OSHA regulations, workers must be able to access these stations within 10 seconds or approximately 55 feet if they get chemicals in their eyes. Portable eyewash stations ideal for landscaping jobsites are available.

  • Make sure employees know the locations of SDSs and eyewash stations.

  • Supply and strictly enforce the use of all PPE called for on product labels.

  • Provide each crew with a jug of water and soap so employees can wash their hands between jobs. This will reduce the risk of chemical exposure that could occur when a worker touches his eyes, face, food, a steering wheel or equipment levers.

  •  Equip vehicles transporting liquid chemicals with spill kits. They should be large enough to contain the number of gallons being hauled. Ensure employees know how to use the kits.

  • Regularly maintain chemical-application equipment. Also provide crews with spare parts such as clamps and hoses.

  • Review your hazard communication program periodically to make sure it’s working. Revise the program as needed to address flaws and changing conditions (new chemicals, new hazards, etc.).

  • Know EPA-regulated pesticide labels might not match OSHA-regulated SDSs. Pictograms could be different, and the signal word on the SDS might not match the signal word on the pesticide label. EPA uses only two pictograms, while the Globally Harmonized System OSHA uses includes additional symbols. “Danger” and “Warning” are the only two signal words that appear on SDSs, while pesticide labels can use the signal words “Caution,” “Warning,” and “Danger.” Management personnel and employees of companies that use pesticides need to understand both systems.

  • Employee Dos and Don’ts


    • Understand what makes a chemical “hazardous.” These substances pose human health hazards (are carcinogens, corrosive or have an effect on the lungs, skin, eyes, mucous membranes, etc.), physical hazards (flammable, explosive, etc.) or environmental hazards.

    • Know the goal of your employer’s hazard communication program and training. They aim to ensure you understand the hazards of chemicals you could encounter and how to protect yourself.

    • Be aware chemicals are harmful based on their toxicity and the amount of exposure a person receives. Because you could be handling chemicals repeatedly and for extended time periods, protecting yourself is very important.

    • Read product labels and follow all manufacturers’ precautions. Read the label in a setting where you can give the information your full attention – not at the jobsite, where you’ll be focused on getting the work done.

    • Be knowledgeable about labels. They tell you about health precautions, first-aid procedures and required personal protective equipment. This can include a respirator and certain types of gloves.

    • Always wear the PPE chemical labels state is required. This often includes gloves, eye protection, a long-sleeved shirt, pants and a respirator.

    • Know where to find safety data sheets (SDSs) and eyewash stations. These should be at your company’s facilities and jobsites.

    • Apply each chemical at the rate specified on its label.

    • Be aware of how chemical contamination can occur. Your hands are the part of your body most likely to contact chemicals. From there, substances can be transferred to your face, other parts of your body, the food you eat and surfaces other people will touch. Even workers who wear gloves can get chemicals on their hands by touching the outside of the gloves after they take them off.

    • Wash your hands with a jug of water and soap after handling any chemical. Because hand sanitizers are designed to kill bacteria and do not remove material from the hands, they won’t protect you from chemicals or other non-organic matter.

    • After work, shower and wash work clothes separately from other clothes.

    • Follow the directions on the appropriate SDS or product label if you or a co-worker is exposed to a chemical.


    • Work with a chemical before receiving related training. You should learn the hazards associated with the chemical and how to protect yourself. If you don’t feel you have received or understood adequate training, notify your supervisor/crew leader.

    • Transport any chemical unless you have been trained in using a spill kit to contain it.

    • Reuse or refill a chemical container. Only do this if your supervisor/crew leader tells you to do so and you are following instructions on the product label. An improperly labeled container can result in the wrong use of a chemical, a fire or explosion and injuries or deaths.

    • Put chemicals in unlabeled containers. There is an exception if you are transferring a chemical from a labeled container to a portable container that is only intended for your immediate use (if you are diluting a chemical in a spray container, for example).

    • Use defective chemical-application equipment. Inspect all items before each use and keep spare parts such as clamps and hoses on hand.

    • Apply chemicals before clearing the area of people and pets.

    • Spray chemicals on a windy day.

    Additional Resources

    Federal OSHA Hazard Communication website –

    Federal OSHA Fact Sheet on Steps to an Effective Hazard Communication Program –

    Federal OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide for Employers That Use Hazardous Chemicals –