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New York Chemical Accident Prevention Guide

Nearly all types of construction work involve hazardous substances to some degree. These materials range from everyday chemicals like paint thinner, sealants, solvents and glues to highly volatile combustibles and explosives. Employers in the construction industry are legally obligated to inform workers of these hazards. As a construction worker, your safety depends on careful handling, storage and disposal of hazardous materials.

Federal law requires employers and contractors in the construction industry to prepare written hazard communication (HazCom) programs for their workers. Compliance with these requirements is an ongoing responsibility, not a one-time occurrence. Employers should designate specific employees (such as site supervisors) to take ownership of the HazCom program and regularly evaluate the need for updates.

Key elements of any construction HazCom program include:

Inventory and Storage

Employers must maintain a thorough, up-to-date inventory of all hazardous substances. They must also properly store these substances in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations.


Each hazardous substance must comply with detailed labeling requirements, including:

  • The name of the substance and its data sheet number
  • A signal word designating the level of hazard (“warning” or “danger”)
  • A pictogram depicting the nature of the hazard
  • Recommended measures for handling and storing the material
  • Contact information for the manufacturer or distributor

Safety Data Sheets

Manufacturers are responsible for determining the hazardous nature of their products. With each shipment, employers should receive a material safety data sheet (MSDS or SDS) for each substance. This documentation must be kept on file so workers can readily access it. Each data sheet must contain:

  • Ingredients and concentrations
  • Identifying characteristics of the substance (such as odor or color)
  • Physical hazards such as flammability, reactivity, flash point, extinguishing materials and explosion potential
  • Health hazards, including how the chemical enters the body (such as accidental ingestion or inhalation), signs and symptoms of exposure, and status as a known carcinogen
  • Safe exposure limits
  • Emergency and first-aid procedures for accidental exposure
  • Instructions for safe handling (including how to handle spills or leaks)
  • Recommended personal protection equipment (such as respirators, goggles and skin coverings)
  • Contact information for the manufacturer or distributor

Workers have the right to review this information on company time.


As a core component of hazard communication, thorough training is essential for keeping workers safe. New hires should undergo training before they begin working with hazardous substances. Likewise, all workers should have periodic refreshers. These trainings should cover all aspects of the hazard communication program, including:

  • How to properly handle and dispose of hazardous materials
  • How to access and interpret material safety data sheets
  • How to interpret hazardous material labels
  • How to use the right personal protective gear
  • How to respond to spills and leaks

Protective Gear

As part of their responsibility to provide a safe workplace, employers must provide the right protective gear for workers handling hazardous chemicals. This gear might include respirators, goggles, face shields, gloves, boots and perhaps even hazmat suits and self-contained breathing apparatuses.

Holding Employers and Contractors Accountable for Hazardous Material Injuries

HazCom violations are among the most common citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Yet lapses in this critical area can put workers at risk for chemical burns, respiratory illness, fires, explosions and worse. Unfortunately, some employers view hazard communication as a matter of paperwork rather than a matter of life or death.

At Block O’Toole & Murphy in New York City, we’re committed to pursuing compensation and accountability for construction workers and their families. Our attorneys have helped workers from all walks of life, including undocumented workers and union members.

Our results speak for themselves: Over the years, we have obtained more than $1.5 billion for our clients, including hundreds of millions in construction accident cases. Learn more about what our lawyers can do for you. Call 212-736-5300 or send us an email to arrange a FREE consultation.

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