Handling Hazardous Materials in Construction

Admin - July 7, 2023 -

Handling Hazardous Materials in Construction

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries to work in. One of the potential hazards that isn’t talked about much is handling hazardous materials on a construction site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) hazard communication standard states that employers are responsible for providing information about chemicals and toxic substances and protective measures workers can take. Often this takes the form of a hazardous materials communication program that helps ensure that everyone is informed about the dangers of the materials they may come into contact with. Before developing this policy, employers must know what materials are hazardous and how to properly store, transport, and use them.

What materials are considered hazardous?

When working on a project, workers may come across a variety of materials and substances that could be considered hazardous. Here are some examples of hazardous materials in construction:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead (found in paint and pipe)
  • Silica dust
  • Fuels (gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane)
  • Concrete additives
  • Solvents
  • Paints and coatings
  • Wood treatments
  • Pesticides
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Refrigerant
  • Mold

There are many more hazardous materials and chemicals out there. The dangers present will depend on the work environment and the nature of the work being performed.

How to store hazardous materials

To determine the correct way to store hazardous materials and chemicals, start by reading the manufacturer’s suggested storage instructions. Make sure that any storage solutions you employ will meet the needs of each individual material/chemical. Also make sure that different materials/chemicals can be stored together, as doing so may increase the volatility or create the potential for an adverse reaction.

Here are some additional suggestions for storing hazardous materials or chemicals:

  • Limit access – Store them in a locked closet/room/cabinet to make sure that only workers who need to access them can. Unauthorized access can increase the risk to worker safety, especially if specialized training is required to know how to handle the materials correctly.
  • Properly label containers – Make sure that each container is properly labeled with the contents and any potential hazards. If products/materials must be transferred into a different container, make sure the correct information is on the outside for quick identification and reference.
  • Keep safety information close – Products that contain chemicals come with material safety data sheets (SDS) that contain information on the contents of the product and what to do if workers are exposed to it. This information should be kept on site where all workers can access it in case of accidental exposure. Employers can subscribe to services that provide this information without having to store paper copies.

Where should hazardous materials be stored?

All potentially hazardous materials or chemicals should be stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Generally, this includes spaces that are ventilated, spacious, above ground, and well lit. You may also want to secure the location by employing locks to deter unauthorized users.

Chemical storage cabinets or lockers can keep your materials secure and offer the added bonus of being resistant to chemical corrosion.

How to transport hazardous materials

Transporting hazardous materials or products requires additional safety measures. When you or one of your employees is transporting hazardous materials, they must comply with standards set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The shipper has quite a few responsibilities when it comes to transporting hazardous materials. Some of the information they must provide includes the following:

  • Determine whether a material meets the definition of a hazardous material
  • Proper shipping name
  • Hazard warning label
  • Proper packaging
  • Employee training
  • Emergency response information and telephone number
  • Adequate blocking and bracing
  • Incident reporting

The carrier, or company responsible for transporting the materials, is responsible for providing the following:

  • Ensuring the cargo space of the vehicle is suitable for the material being shipped
  • Ensuring the vehicle itself is in sound mechanical condition
  • Checking to ensure that the materials are properly described and packaged
  • Shipping documents
  • Hazard placards for the vehicle
  • Proper loading and unloading
  • Adequate blocking and bracing
  • Incident reporting
  • Employee training

Some of these duties overlap and are the responsibility of both the shipper and the carrier.

Creating a hazardous material communication program

Each employer must develop their own hazardous material communication program whose purpose is to outline how employees will be informed about the proper use and storage of hazardous materials, as well as what to do in the case of accidental exposure.

The program should include the following:

  • Who will determine if a material or product is hazardous
  • The process for collecting and storing material safety data sheets and who is responsible for their collection and maintenance
  • The process for collecting and storing hazard warning labels and who is responsible for their collection and maintenance
  • How contractors and employees will be informed about the program
  • How and when employees will be trained on the hazard communication program and the nature of the materials or products they’ll be working with
  • A chemical inventory list providing each potentially hazardous product or material, whether an SDS has been collected, and the manufacturer’s name, address, and emergency telephone number

The program may also include an emergency response plan that details the equipment and personnel needed to respond to a spill or other accidental exposure.

OSHA has created a template that you can use for developing your own hazardous material communication program.


Handling hazardous materials and chemicals can be dangerous for construction workers. Employers must ensure that every employee has the information they need to work safely and respond appropriately to a dangerous situation. By developing and implementing a hazard communication program, employers can stay on top of OSHA requirements and keep their workers safe.

Related posts