Right-to-Know Laws and Rights
The Right-to-Know refers to workers’ rights to information about chemicals in their workplaces. The federal law that provides these rights is the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Private-sector employers must provide chemical information to their workers under the OSHA standard.
Most states have their own Right-to-Know laws that cover public-sector workers. In some of these states, workers have stronger rights than under the federal Hazard Communication Standard.
Know your right-to-know rights!
Right-to-Know laws give workers the right to know about dangerous chemicals at work. You have rights to get information about chemicals in four main ways.
- Employers must maintain a list of all hazardous products known to be in the workplace.
- Chemical containers must have labels.
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that describe the dangers of a chemical and how to prevent exposure must be provided.
- Workers must be trained about chemical hazards.
Workers' rights to information under hazard communication
Under the Hazard Communication Standard, employers must provide their workers with information about chemicals by:
Some AFSCME local unions have formed Hazardous Materials Review Committees. They look at the MSDS and other information on chemicals before the employer brings them into the workplace. The committee checks the products’ hazards and may try to find safer substitutes for dangerous chemicals. These review committees often work as joint labor/management efforts.
Hazardous chemicals list
Employers must keep an updated list of hazardous chemicals they use and store. A hazardous chemical is a product that can cause harm to employees.
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requires that manufacturers must label all chemical containers. At a minimum, the OSHA standard requires that the label must contain at least three pieces of information:
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard also requires that:
Chemicals do not always have to be labeled. For example, employers do not have to label pipes or piping systems. Employers must still inform employees about hazardous chemicals in pipes, such as gas or steam. This can be done by color-coding pipes, such as painting all gas pipes yellow.
How to get an msds if you are not covered by osha or a state right-to-know law:
Ask your employer. Employers get these MSDSs when they buy chemical products.
Ask your AFSCME staff representative. Your union representative can get MSDSs from the AFSCME Department of Research and Collective Bargaining Services.
Get MSDSs on the Internet. Here is a sampling of sites where you can get access to MSDSs and other Chemical Information: