Why Proper MSDS Management is Critical in Student Laboratories

The goal of proper Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) management in student laboratories is to ensure important safety information is readily available and accessible to anyone who needs it. When MSDSs are properly managed, incidences of harm or damage to students and the environment are greatly reduced, thereby reducing the educational institution’s exposure to liability. 

When MSDS management is made part of the student lab standard, benefits extend beyond the students to encompass employees as well as faculty. Among the benefits of proper MSDS management are consistent communication, consistency of experimental techniques, consistent use of all laboratory equipment, and safe, consistent handling and disposal methods.

Understanding the MSDS

Manufacturers of products containing hazardous substances are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to compile, update, and distribute their MSDS as needed. Along with the name of both the manufacture and the product, the MSDS includes information on a hazardous substance’s physical properties, exposure limits, potential for fire and explosion hazard, potential exposure routes and related health effects of each, the substance’s reactivity, proper procedures for handling spills, suggested protective measures, and any additional special precautions. 

Students are required to receive thorough instruction and training in safe handling of the hazardous substances they will use as part of their laboratory experience. However, they do not always have quick and easy access to MSDSs. It is usually only when an emergency situation develops that reference to these technical documents is attempted. That is not the optimum time, however, to put a university’s MSDS management procedure to test. It is for this very reason that this product safety information be up-to-date, organized. and immediately accessible to students, their instructors, and anyone else who may need it.

MSDS Management Best Practices

Among OSHA MSDS requirements, as outlined in the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), is the requirement stating “All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and MSDSs for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.”

But there is more to providing a safe workplace than simply training students, employees and faculty staff in the proper handling of hazardous substances. The employer must be sure that all MSDS documents are quickly accessible, properly organized, and updated regularly.

A study conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO), on behalf of OSHA, found that “a substantial number of employers were not in compliance with the HCS. Twenty-six percent of worksites inspected by OSHA were reported to be in violation of at least one provision of the HCS.”

In addition to the dangers facing people who handle hazardous chemicals without being aware of all safety procedures, the school faces the possibility of substantial fines and penalties from improper MSDS management.

Computerized MSDS Database Systems Provide Protection

Not only are bulging binders of MSDS documents difficult to access when an incident occurs, they do not lend themselves to being accessed my multiple people at the same time for training or emergency response purposes. Add to that the difficulty in keeping copies of the MSDS up-to-date, and it becomes clear that a computer-based solution is a school’s best option.

Organizations like Kelleher, Helmrich and Associates, Inc., (KHA) provide online MSDS services that address all of the best practice requirements of OSHA by performing all of the tasks necessary to keep MSDSs up-to-date and immediately accessible to anyone who uses their service.

The KHA service offering includes the following:

  • Immediately scan and index school-specific MSDSs for instant access in a private database.
  • Scan and add new MSDSs as the school receives them.
  • Update existing MSDSs as manufacturers change them.
  • Provide immediate local-server or web-hosted access to all MSDSs via their Online-MSDS Management Software.

Online services like these avoid duplication of effort and eliminate the needs to maintain multiple copies of MSDS binders in various laboratories and chemical storage rooms. But more importantly, they guarantee access to the most current MSDS for every chemical in your inventory immediately. This is especially important in emergencies when seconds can make the difference between a manageable incident and a crisis.

Other convenient and time-saving features offered by KHA include the ability to store all of your MSDSs on your fax-back server, for access by personnel who are not near a computer terminal when there is an incident, or when remote training is occurring.

The software also provides the ability to print labels, binders, index sheets and distribute MSDS sheets to your users on your own company Intranet. You can also run analysis reports on the chemicals in your inventory.

The software is provided at no up-front costs and all services are available on a subscription basis.

Other Free and Valuable Resources

KHA provides links on their web site to HAZMAT-related reports, government and private agencies, HAZMAT industry professional organizations, as well as tools, calculators and other materials of interest to anyone who works with hazardous chemicals. The web site is an excellent learning and teaching resource.

Neat Stuff

  • Chemical Regulator Reference by CAS number or name
  • List of Glycol Ethers
  • Various regulatory reference lists and links to other related sites