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Right-to-Know Laws

By Mike Marvel, PhD Chemist and Team Leader

The U.S. government has passed the Hazard Communication Standard (usually referred to as the “Right to Know” law) and the Laboratory Standard as two key laws that must be followed when using chemicals in science labs. We will cover both standards in this article. Please keep in mind that these laws do not extend coverage to state and local governments. However, almost all state governments have either passed their own version of the Hazard Communication Standard or put their stamp of approval on the federal laws and extended their jurisdiction to cover local and state governmental bodies.

Right-to-Know Laws

The federal and most statutory Right-to-Know laws contain the following six requirements or provisions:

  1. Safety Data Sheets (SDS): SDSs are the primary way of communicating the hazards of a chemical. The SDS provision of the law requires the employer to acquire, update and maintain SDSs for hazardous chemicals used or stored in the facility and to make those SDSs available to employees and students for informational purposes. SDSs should be kept in a binder or electronically stored at the locations where chemicals are stored and used. Click link below for a sample SDS for hydrochloric acid.

    Sample SDS (link:

  2. Hazardous Materials List: A list of all hazardous materials must be assembled. In most states, this list is kept only by the employer, and access is given to the employee upon request. Some states require a copy of this list to be given to the fire department or another state agency.

  3. Inventory: The hazardous materials list and an up-to-date inventory usually go hand in hand. Both the lists must be continually updated. An inventory of all hazardous chemicals is an essential requirement of most Right-to-Know laws. An inventory consists of the name of the chemical, how much you have and where it is stored.

  4. Notification: All laws require the employer to notify the employee of any potential exposure or actual exposure to hazardous substance. This initially is accomplished by posting the Right-to-Know regulations on a poster where it can easily be read and will be noticed by the employee. Notification is also accomplished through training and employee access to SDSs.

  5. Training: Many state laws are very detailed and specific in the area of training requirements of employees. Most states require training to be done annually or when exposure to a new hazard is anticipated. Some states require this training to be in written form while others allow verbal training or both. Training includes understanding labels and SDSs, learning hazard types, where they are located, safe handling of chemicals, proper use of Personal Use of Equipment (PPE) and handling emergency situations.

  6. Labels and Labelling of Hazardous Materials: Most laws require that a minimum standard of labeling must be observed. This includes the name of the chemical, its concentration, date prepared, physical and chemical hazards, understanding pictograms and signal words, name and address of the manufacturer.

The Laboratory Standard

In May 1990, the federal government passed an extension of the Hazard Communication Standard written specifically for the academic and research laboratories. Most states also passed a version of the Laboratory Standard. The Laboratory Standard is very similar to the original law. The major difference is the requirement to have a Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) and a Chemical Hygiene Officer.

A chemical hygiene plan (CHP) is a written report that includes general laboratory rules and procedures, personal protective equipment requirements, spill and accident procedures, chemical storage rules and procedures, safety equipment requirements and inspection procedures, employee safety training requirements, exposure and medical evaluation processes and emergency evacuation plan.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Let’s keep safety always in mind. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I am happy to help!