An MSDS data sheet includes all the information pertaining to a material’s safe storage, handling, and usage. OSHA regulations require that the manufacturers of hazardous materials include an MSDS data sheet with every container of the compound that’s produced and shipped. Sometimes, however, non-hazardous materials also require printed information.
Though there are hundreds of thousands of possible material combinations, the sheets themselves are fairly standard. In addition to the chemical’s name and composition, an MSDS includes intrinsic properties such as stability and reactivity, toxicological information, and protocols for transport and disposal. MSDS are not, however, considered exhaustive resources on all of a material’s attributes, but guides to its occupational use. It is therefore important to supplement your MSDS with bulletins and labels.
The History of the MSDS Data Sheet
There’s some debate about where and when MSDS originated. Scholars agree that much of the information presented on a modern day MSDS dates back several millennia. While the particulars of atomic structure and weight weren’t measurable, the tradition of documenting a material’s properties goes back to the Ancient Egyptians and their first great doctor, Imhotep, who was said to have recorded the pharmaceutical qualities of remedies used for ailments at the time. But records were also made of the storage and handling procedures for dyes and other ointments.
Several hundred years later, the Sumerians extended the work of the Egyptians with their cuneiform writing, still visible today on preserved clay tablets. The written tradition of medicine is said to have continued up until the fourth and third centuries B.C., when the Greeks expanded the canon of everyday substances and recorded their uses. But it wasn’t until the fifteenth century and the development of “movable” type that something resembling the modern MSDS finally developed.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are used everywhere by handlers of chemicals and toxic materials. They describe in detail all the critical information about about a given substance, including its chemical name, hazardous ingredients, reactivity information, and safe-handling instructions. If you work in a lab, manufacturing plant, or any place that exposes you to potentially dangerous chemicals, chances are you already have MSDS on hand.
MSDS are important for employees because they describe exactly how a material should be stored, handled, and disposed of. If there’s an accident at a work site, it’s critical that that information be readily available so that medical responders or fellow employees can treat exposure or poisoning. Even if there’s been no contamination, workers simply must know how to handle these materials in their day-to-day use.
Who Uses MSDS?
While workers must have MSDS available at all times, so must employers. The sheets are not provided simply as a courtesy by the materials’ manufacturers. They are required by governmental agencies, including the Occupational Health & Safety Organization (OSHA), whose job it is to prevent workplace injuries and deaths.
Since 1970, when the agency was created under the Nixon administration, OSHA has reduced occupational deaths by 62% and injuries by 42%. Today, regulations are more stringent than ever, but there is still work to be done. In 2001 alone, there were some 5.2 million occupational injuries or illnesses among U.S. workers. And those only account for the ones that were reported.
Employers and MSDS
As stated above, employers depend on MSDS as much as their workers do. It is the responsibility of the business owner or on-site manager to make sure workers are trained in the everyday use of manufacturing materials and other chemicals. If an accident does occur, it is the management that incurs the liability (though in some cases the material’s manufacturer can be responsible).
It is therefore imperative that every business that uses such materials have MSDS on file, not just for safe handling instructions and training purposes, but under penalty of law. But managing an MSDS database can be tricky; a material’s specifications may routinely change or be updated, and sometimes new chemicals are created altogether. If two existing materials are combined into one, it may not be a matter of simply combining the handling procedures for the individual products. So what are employers to do?
The MSDS Solution
The easiest way to remain in compliance is to find an effective way to manage your MSDS database. In the old days, this meant sifting through reams and reams of old MSDS to find outdated material that needed to be updated. But thanks to the Internet age, it’s easier than ever to keep information up to date by using an online database. There are even companies whose sole job it is to manage your data for you.
Outsourcing your MSDS management can be an invaluable move. By hiring someone else to do the work, you free up your own personnel to do the tasks you need, not clerical minutiae that can be handled by a third party. At MSDS Information, we hope to provide you with everything you need in order to come into compliance, as well as make smart business decisions that will help you more effectively allocate your company’s resources. Read on for more about the history, purpose, and day-to-day use of MSDS, the role of OSHA, and ways to help save your business money with MSDS management.
There are several free MSDS databases that are designed to give employers and workers the basic info they need. Oftentimes these free services provide an abbreviated print-out with only a few of the materials’ telling attributes. For example, an MSDS might have information on first aid and firefighting, but no vapor density, specific gravity, or other attributes of a standardized MSDS.
As a result, most Free MSDS are not suitable for OSHA compliance. Instead, these databases are public services aimed at getting the most critical safety information out there. In many cases, free MSDS offer only what their printers deem to be the most useful information, so if you require a comprehensive read-out, it’s worth your money to invest in an online MSDS solutions company.
Free MSDS Is Better Than No MSDS
If you’re just starting your company, you’ll need to come into full OSHA compliance as quickly as possible. In the meantime, a partial MSDS is still better than no MSDS at all. Many free providers offer quality services such as inventory management and environmental reporting. Some even provide applications to synch information between your PC and handheld devices.
Free material safety data sheets are useful, but can’t be depended on to meet every OSHA regulation. Even databases boasting more than 500,000 MSDS from thousands and thousands of manufacturers may only list a portion of the information you need, so be sure to check with the database manager and OSHA first. Some providers will offer a baseline service with limited access to MSDS, then charge for premium or expanded services. The safety business is, after all, still a business.
In addition to material safety data sheets, OSHA requires all companies to affix MSDS labels to their containers. Sometimes a job will require a quick assessment of risk, and there’s no time to go digging after buried sheets in an office. With MSDS labels, the same important info is instantly available on the containers themselves.
An MSDS Label is a compressed version of a full sheet and displays the same critical info–hazardous ingredients, chemical properties, fire and explosion data, and so on. These labels must be brightly colored for easy identification, as well as clear and legible. If a worker cannot read a label’s information, that worker shouldn’t be using the material in question, especially if it involves bringing it into contact with other compounds.
How To Print Your MSDS Labels
In the old days, MSDS labels were transcribed from MSDS by hand, which could be a painstaking task. Nowadays, there are many computer programs on the market that combine MSDS solutions with label-making capabilities. Oftentimes an MSDS label can be tied to the MSDS itself for easy tracking and maintenance.
Your MSDS online company can handle all your labeling needs in addition to your other database requirements. Many programs that your MSDS provider may use offer customization options such as user-definable warnings and hazard codes. If you’re working with a proprietary substance, you can still display all the safety information necessary to meet OSHA regulations and ensure your employees’ well-being.
OSHA MSDS are the easiest way to ensure that your company’s safety standards are in line with those of the governmental agency. OSHA goes to great lengths to make sure not only that companies are in compliance, but that standards are “harmonized” across industries. That way commercial paint manufacturers are held to the same standards as textile companies.
The producer of a chemical is required by law to include a separate MSDS for each material it manufactures. If a company isn’t manufacturing chemicals but simply importing them, it is still required to have an MSDS database on file. It is up to distributors to make sure that their customers have OSHA MSDS so that they can administer first aid or provide other emergency services in the event of an accident.
The Need for OSHA MSDS
It’s a major task to make sure that every company across America meets environmental and occupational standards. No matter how good a job the agency does, there are business owners who try to dodge compliance guidelines, which causes the incidence of workplace injury and death to rise. By the agency’s estimates, some three million workplaces expose their employees to approximately 650,000 different hazardous chemicals. All told, more than 32 million workers handle these chemicals in the U.S. each year.
OSHA’s goal is to make sure that the right information is disseminated to these workers. Chemicals can cause a wide range of health problems, from simple irritation to carcinogenicity, depending on the means and the degree of exposure. With the right MSDS training and information, companies can minimize their liabilities and their employees’ long-term health risks.
Setting up an online database to manage all your manufacturing needs is a wise MSDS solution. No matter what type of production you’re in, from medical supplies to housing materials, the state and federal government both mandate that you provide your workers with critical protection information for the materials they’re using. Likewise, if first responders arrive at the scene of an accident, the first thing they’ll want to see is the MSDS for the material that’s spilled, leaked, exploded, or been ingested.
Your MSDS Solution is more than just access to information–it’s about successfully managing it as well. If new carcinogenicity info has been released on a particular substance, your MSDS need to reflect that immediately. That’s why you need an MSDS solutions provider that updates its data continuously. You could try to stay abreast of all the latest news on chemical reagents, but if you’re storing and handling thousands of different materials, this is nearly impossible.
A One-Stop MSDS Solution
Technology has enabled manufacturers and distributors to take care of all their MSDS needs in one place. Almost all online MSDS companies give you up-to-date information, so it’s the extras that will make the difference in deciding whom to hire for your plant’s needs. Shop around to find out which companies will customize CDs, build intranets, or transfer your “bricks-and-mortar” database to a virtual one.
Some companies even offer scanning and indexing services. If you’re managing thousands of different chemicals, this can be a tremendous time-saver for you and your workers alike. If OSHA does make a surprise visit to your factory, you can be fined or even shut down if you fail to provide your staff with the info it needs to safely do its jobs.