How can I tell if the chemicals I work with are dangerous?

Read the label. Under the law, chemicals should come – and be kept – in properly labelled containers. The label gives you important information about the hazards of the substance, for example if it is toxic or likely to cause skin burns or allergic reactions. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has information on working with chemicals, including an explanation of the safety symbols and codes used on chemical containers.

Ask about the safety data sheet. The product should also be accompanied by a safety data sheet, which gives you more detail about a substance's hazards and the precautions you need to take. Your employer should keep copies of safety data sheets for the products you use, and should tell you how to use the products safely.

The new Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulations came into force in January 2009 (black symbols on white with a red diamond-shaped border). This replaced labelling chemicals under the CHIP Regulations (black symbols on orange squares) and was no longer permitted for substances from December 2010, and for mixtures from June 2015. However, where a mixture has already been classified, labelled and packaged according to CHIP, and placed on the market before 1 June 2015, it does not have to be recalled until 1 June 2017. 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.