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Employee Rights Relative to Hazardous Chemical Injury

By Ken Roy

Posted on 2024-03-22

Employee Rights Relative to Hazardous Chemical Injury

I. Laboratory Employee Rights Under OSHA

Certain instructional spaces like science, technology education, engineering, and STEM laboratories can be unsafe places to work, due to potential safety hazards and resulting health and safety risks. Federal law entitles employees to a safer workplace. The employer is required to keep the workplace free of known health and safety hazards. Employees have the right to speak up about hazards without fear of retaliation. According to OSHA, employees also have the following rights:

  • Receive workplace safety and health training in a language you understand;
  • Work on machines that are safe;
  • Receive required safety equipment, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls;
  • Be protected from toxic chemicals;
  • Request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, and speak to the inspector;
  • Report an injury or illness, and get copies of your medical records;
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses; and
  • See results of tests taken to find workplace hazards.

Learn more at,results%20of%20tests%20taken%20to%20find%20workplace%20hazards

OSHA’s Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories standard (i.e., Laboratory Standard—29 CFR 1910.1450) helps the laboratory employee have a safer worksite. It applies to all employers engaged in the laboratory use of hazardous chemicals, including academic science/STEM laboratories. The standard has provisions for medical consultation and medical examinations and is noted in accordance with paragraph “g” (

It does stipulate that the employer must provide employees working with hazardous chemicals the opportunity to receive medical attention, including follow-up examinations, under certain circumstances. Those circumstances include

1.    develops signs and symptoms associated with hazardous chemicals;
2.    exposure monitoring revealing exposure levels above the Action Level (or in absence of Action Level, the permissible exposure limit [PEL]); and
3.    exposure resulting from an incident (spill, leak, explosion or other situation).

The medical examination and consultations must be performed by or under the supervision of a licensed physician, at no cost to the employee. This includes no loss of pay and at a reasonable time and place. In this instance, the employer is required to provide the following information to the physician:

1.    Identify the hazardous chemical(s) to which the employee has been exposed;
2.    Describe the conditions under which the exposure occurred; and
3.    Describe any signs and symptoms the employee is experiencing.

Once the employee is examined by the physician, the employer is entitled to the following information:

1.    Recommendations for further medical action;
2.    Results of examination and any tests associated with the activity;
3.    Information of any medical condition revealed during the examination that may place the employee at increased risk as a result of exposure in the workplace;
4.    Statement that the employee was informed by the physician of the examination results, including any medical condition requiring further inquiry or treatment; and
5.    The physician’s opinion cannot reveal specific findings unrelated to the occupational exposure.

II. Employer Responsibilities Regarding Employee Medical Records

Employers must keep records of exposures and medical monitoring of each “toxic substance or harmful physical agent” in the workplace. OSHA defines these as “any chemical substance, biological agent (bacteria, virus, fungus, etc.), or physical stress (noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, hypo- or hyperbaric pressure, etc.)” that meets any of the following criteria:

1.    be listed in the latest edition of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances; 
2.    have yielded positive evidence of an acute or chronic health hazard in testing conducted by or known to the employer; or
3.    be the subject of a safety data sheet (SDS) kept by or known to the employer indicating that the material may pose a hazard to human health.

OSHA requires an employer to create chemical exposure and medical records for each of the following types of employees:

  • Current employee;
  • Former employee (including a deceased or incapacitated former employee, who may be represented by a legal representative); and
  • Employee assigned or transferred to where there will be exposure to toxic substances or harmful physical agents.

Employee exposure records that contain any of the following information are covered:

1.    Workplace monitoring or measuring of a toxic substance or harmful physical agents, including related collection and analytical methodologies, calculations, and other background data relevant to interpretation of results;
2.    Biological monitoring results that assess the absorption of a toxic substance or harmful physical agent by body systems (e.g., blood and tissue sample results), but not including drug or alcohol test results;
3.    Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or SDS indicating the material may pose a hazard to human health; and
4.    (If the first three types of records are unavailable), chemical inventory describing where and when these substances were used.

III. OSHA’s Access to Medical and Exposure Records Standard

If an employee has been exposed to toxic chemical substances or harmful physical agents while working, OSHA’s “Access to Medical and Exposure Records” standard (OSHA standard 3110) may help detect, prevent, and possibly treat the medical disorder. Employees have the right to access relevant exposure and medical records. OSHA’s 3110 standard covers employees under the following conditions:

1.    A current or former employee who is or may have been exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents; 
2.    An employee who was assigned or transferred to work involving toxic substances or harmful physical agents; and
3.    The legal representative of a deceased or legally incapacitated employee who was or may have been exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents.

(Access to Medical and Exposure Records OSHA 3110:

This standard involves records noting the amount of employee exposure to “toxic substances and harmful physical agents.” Toxic substances and harmful physical agents may include the following:

1.    Metals and dusts, such as lead, cadmium, and silica;
2.   Biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; and
3.   Physical stress, such as noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

IV. Employer Responsibility Under OSHA 3110

Under OSHA 3110, the employer is required to do the following:  

1.    Preserve and maintain accurate medical and exposure records for each employee;
2.    Inform workers of the existence, location, and availability of those medical and exposure records;
3.    Give employees any informational material regarding this standard that OSHA makes available to you; and
4.    Make records available to employees, their designated representatives, and to OSHA, as required.

Employers are required to keep records of an employee exposure, medical records, and other exposure information for at least the duration of the employee’s employment plus 30 years. The following are the exceptions per the standard:

1.    Health insurance claims records that employees maintain separately from their medical program and its records;
2.    First-aid records made on-site by a non-physician of one-time treatment and later observations of minor scratches, scrapes, or other injuries that did not involve medical treatment, loss of consciousness, restriction of work or motion, or transfer to another job;
3.    Medical records of employees who have worked for less than 1 year, as long as the employer offers all such records to the employee upon termination of employment;
4.    Background data related to environmental, or workplace, monitoring or measuring—such as laboratory reports and worksheets—must only be retained for 1 year, as long as you preserve certain interpretive documents relevant to the interpretation of the data for 30 years;
5.    SDSs and other specified records concerning the identity of a substance or agent, as long as you keep some record of the identity, preferably the chemical name and information on when and where it was used, for 30 years;
6.    Biological monitoring results designated as exposure records by specific OSHA standards shall be preserved and maintained as required by the specific standard governing their use; and
7.    Analyses using medical or exposure records for at least 30 years.

V. Employee Record Access

As an employee, you may access any employee exposure records indicating the measuring or monitoring of the employee’s own exposure to a toxic substance or harmful physical agent. If your employer does not have any records that specifically chart the employee’s own exposure levels, the employee may access the exposure records of employees who engage in similar work or working conditions and may have experienced exposures similar to yours.

Employee exposure records include the following:

1.    Monitoring results of workplace air or measurements of toxic substances or harmful physical agents in the workplace, including personal, area, grab, wipe, or other forms of sampling results;
2.    Biological monitoring results, such as blood and urine test results; and
3.    SDSs containing information about a substance’s hazards to human health.

You also may access any employee medical records concerning your health status that were created or maintained by a physician, nurse, health care professional, or technician. Employee medical records include the following:

1.    Medical and employment questionnaires or histories;
2.    Results of medical examinations and laboratory tests;
3.    Medical opinions, diagnoses, progress notes, and recommendations;
4.    First-aid records;
5.    Descriptions of treatments and prescription; and
6.    Employee medical complaints.

In addition, you may access any analyses—compilations of data or statistical studies—of employee medical and exposure records that concern your working conditions or workplace. If an analysis includes information that could be used to directly or indirectly identify individual employees, however, the employer is required to remove these “identifiers” to the extent possible before permitting employee access to the analysis. Examples of identifiers include an employee’s name, address, social security number, and job title.

If an employee needs assistance or more information about this standard, OSHA operates technical assistance, training and education, and consultation programs to help employers and employees understand rules and their requirements. In addition, OSHA’s website——contains information on agency programs, activities, policies, rules, training and education, outreach, and more. For a list of available publications and information on OSHA electronic products, visit the website. For more information about Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records, see Standards on OSHA’s website, or contact your nearest OSHA Regional or Area Office.

The Bottom Line

Given that the science supervisor or Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO) may represent the employer in these cases, he or she may need to take an active role in facilitating medical examinations for employees, help provide access to medical records, and more. The bottom line is the supervisor or CHO needs to have clear guidelines or standard operating procedures related to their responsibilities in these cases. This information needs to be part of the Chemical Hygiene Plan.

Submit questions regarding health and safety issues in science/STEM instructional spaces to Ken Roy at

Follow Ken Roy on X: @drroysafersci.

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