Hazards of Traditional Hazard Communications

The traditional method of communicating chemical right-to-know information to employees is through the use of 3-ring binders filled with paper copies of the ubiquitous material safety data sheets.  There are many dangers with the ubiquitous paper based system though.

  • Accessibility – Large facilities with multiple safety stations can be hard to reach with long distances between them.  In the event of a chemical spill or other hazardous situation precious minutes may be lost by locating a binder.  In the event of an emergency (such as a fire) not being able to provide first responders with needed information. Such as don’t use water because it is a magnesium fire…..
  • User Issues – Being a paper system it is very common for issues related to employees not returning documents to their proper place after use.  If proper auditing is not in place these omissions are usually not found until a time sensitive crisis situation or an OSHA audit.
  • Usability – Even though there are standards for MSDS creation, there are many standards, and not a single one.  Additionally even the standards have a lot of room for interpretation causing critical safety information such as NFPA and HMIS rating codes to not being able to see the information clearly and quickly.  Many times the data sheets will contain the codes in a text only format making it difficult to locate on the document.  This problem also requires more user training.  Not only does the typical employee need to be trained on the various hazard codes, but also on the various places to find them.
  • Training – As pointed out above user training can be simplified with a digital system.  It required a lot more involvement for HR to effectively train, and track the training on a paper system.  It is also impossible to know if the paper system is even being accessed by employees at all.
  • Quality Assurance – With paper systems there is traditionally copies being made of copies.  People look at them, spill their coffee, drop them on the floor, and more that we won’t talk about.  The point is though, is that nothing compares to a crisp original digital document.
  • Reporting – Being able to easily print up to date reports by any type of binder organization you wish, and being able to sort in various ways.  Oh, that’s right, you can’t do that too easily with paper.
  • Compliance – Being assured that revision checking is being done for you is up to whoever is in-charge of the data sheets.  Usually this person creates their own tracking system.  We’ve seen great ones some times, but mostly it is more blind luck then organized system. Also keeping track of archived versions is hard, because with the binder overflowing, what do you do with the archives? Then of course you need to be able to demonstrate to OSHA regulators that the system is fully compliant.
  • Time Management – When you are dealing with paper everywhere there is the time consuming task of records management.  When a new sheet needs to be added you have to make copies and distribute it to the various communication stations. There are now more efficient ways through the use of technology and the Internet.
  • Personal Safety – There’s always the risk of serious paper cuts.