Getting on the Same Page: Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are quite familiar to anyone working with hazardous chemicals in such environments as: labs, distribution warehouses, food operations, etc. The sheets describe “the physical and chemical properties, physical and health hazards, routes of exposure, precautions for safe handling and use, emergency and first-aid procedures, and control measures.” OSHA cites that these documents, along with labels and training in the workplace, are key elements in maintaining proper handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. It is also essential that employees are familiar with MSDS documents and know where to find them in your operation.

In essence, the documents are meant to clarify and simplify the pertinent information for each hazardous chemical for employees. As an active inventory of all hazardous chemicals going in and out of an operation, MSDS assist in assuring both the safety of the workers and the security of any operation. When properly implemented, controls like MSDS are a part of creating necessary transparency for your employees and inspectors; an improperly implemented MSDS program can actually create headaches and liabilities down the road. Due to this, the more one is able to read, understand, and properly implement the standards set forth in state and federal law, the better. For updated information and language on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200 click here.

GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. It is a global approach to identifying hazardous chemicals and communicating those hazards to workers via labels and material safety data sheets (MSDS). OSHA revised the current HCS to align with GHS principles and create new compliance obligations for everyone in the life cycle of hazardous materials. For example, if OSHA adopts its proposed changes, then chemical manufacturers will need to author new MSDSs and employers will need to update their entire MSDS library in a short time frame.

Your local OSHA office can also help clarify or answer any questions you might have on MSDS or other HAZMAT issues. Below are some of the top FAQs that often come up when MSDS are discussed.

Question: Is there a standard MSDS format?
Answer: No. However, there are requirements for what information needs to be contained within. To see a compliant Material Safety Data Sheet form from the U.S. Department of Labor click here.

Question: Where should I keep my MSDS documents?
Answer: The most important thing to remember is that MSDS documents need to be accurate, up-to-date, and in an area where all employees can easily access the information at all points of the workday. For example setting up a central computer system with the information easily at hand in all work areas would suffice, or keeping a hardcopy binder of MSDS available in an area of the operation that is clearly marked and accessible to all would work as well. A computer system not readily available to all potentially affected workers, or a binder locked in a receiving office or HR department during third shift, for example, would be forms of improper storage. To see the official language click here.

Question: How long should I keep my MSDS documents?
Answer: According the United States Department of Labor:
“The Hazard Communication Standard requires that employers maintain copies of material safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical used in the workplace. Employers may discard a material safety data sheet for a mixture, if the new data sheet includes the same hazardous chemicals as the original formulation. If the formulation is different then the employer must maintain both data sheets for at least 30 years. OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910.1020, Access to employee Exposure and Medical Records defines “employee exposure records” to include material safety data sheets. The standard requires all employee exposure records to be maintained for at least 30 years.”

To request a MSDS for a product from Nelson-Jameson, click here for our MSDS Request Form.

A Picture of Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

About Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

Laboratory Products Department Manager, Nelson-Jameson, Inc.
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