How to Determine Whether a Chemical Is Classified as ‘Hazardous’?

There are always chemicals present in facilities, and it’s incumbent on the facility manager to inform their employees or tenants of potential hazards. It’s not always clear, however, which chemicals are required in a communication plan.  Experts at® were recently asked the best way to determine what chemicals are considered “hazardous” when creating a hazard communication plan. Would you know which chemicals would be classified as such, specifically when it comes to cleaning supplies? Read on to learn more about the question and how it was answered by the experts.

Cleaning equipment with cart on the floor in office building

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Q: I am currently writing a Hazardous Communication plan for our company. One of the key requirements for the plan is that we catalog all of our “Hazardous Chemicals.” What is the best way to determine if a chemical is classified as hazardous? The chemicals I will be auditing are basic cleaning supplies for our janitorial staff. Is there an indicator on the Safety Data Sheet that will clarify if it is hazardous or not?

A: Under both federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA’s hazard communication standard, if employees use a consumer product (such as a cleaning product) in the workplace in a manner, frequency, and duration of exposure that does not exceed the range of exposures a consumer would reasonably experience while using the product as intended, it falls under the the hazard communication standard’s consumer products exemption at 29 CFR 1910.1200(b)(6)(ix) (federal) and 8 CCR 5194(b)(5)(G) (California), and you would not need to include it in your hazard communication program.

If the cleaning supplies used by your janitorial staff are the same products that are available to consumers, it is your responsibility as an employer to assess whether your employees’ use of those chemicals is comparable to typical consumer use. However, if your employees’ exposure to these chemicals is significantly greater than what would occur during typical consumer use, you would be required to list these chemicals on your hazardous chemical inventory and maintain safety data sheets (SDSs), labels, training, and other required elements of the hazard communication standard for these chemicals.

Generally speaking, if a chemical product has an SDS, it has already been classified as hazardous by the manufacturer or importer of the chemical. It is the manufacturer or importer’s responsibility to prepare or obtain SDSs for all hazardous chemicals they produce or import. The hazard communication standard specifies criteria for the evaluation and classification of chemical hazards for the purpose of preparing SDSs.

As an employer or end user of a chemical product, your responsibility is to have an SDS for each hazardous chemical in use at your facility and make SDSs available to employees, ensure that hazardous chemicals in your workplace are properly labeled in compliance with the hazard communication standard, develop a written hazard communication program (including the hazardous chemical inventory you mention) and make it available to employees on request, train employees on the chemical hazards they could encounter in the workplace, and provide any necessary protective equipment or other safety measures for employees exposed to chemical hazards.

In California, employers are also required to provide employees with warnings, either posted in the workplace or through product labels, concerning any chemicals in their inventory that are listed under the state’s Proposition 65 as known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. The current Proposition 65 list is available at

Note: This question was answered by experts at

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