The Importance of Material Safety Data Sheets (SDS) (MSDS)

The Importance of Material Safety Data Sheets (SDS) (MSDS)

For many workplaces, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) have become so complex they are more of a dense labyrinth than the roadmap they should be. In a location where accidents could cause severe injury or even death, you need your employees to understand how to ensure they are staying safe.

So, what do you need to know about your MSDS process to protect those under your wing?

This article will start with a breakdown of what MSDSs contain to ensure you understand their importance. You will also learn how they can boost company safety, as well as how to recognize and resolve challenges they present. By the end, you will know what your next steps should be and have the tools you need to ensure your workers’ health and safety in the future.

Understanding Material Safety Data Sheets

These sheets are essential documents in any workplace. They describe many of the properties and dangers of any workplace chemicals. Any location may have these, even if simply handling cleaning material is a possible part of the job.

These documents help an organization’s workers understand how to do things like:

  • Engage in safe handling and storage
  • Emergency steps in case of an accident
  • How to identify potential problems

When your workplace has such chemicals, OSHA requires that you have these documents to protect your workers. They also inform emergency responders of whether you have items on-site that can cause further issues after an accident.

The Importance of Storing and Using MSDSs Correctly

To be useful to a company, the organization must ensure it has placed its MSDSs in a location that prioritizes ease of access. They must be available in the employees’ work area, allowing workers to use them as needed.

MSDSs often detail specific health and physical workplace hazards. As such, accurate storage and usage can ensure that they remain useful. They are also imperative for the immediate and effective undertaking of emergency response.

For example, in the case of a chemical spill or accidental contact with substances, these documents offer the steps one must take. Examples of these include:

  • Essential first aid
  • Storage
  • Disposal

MSDS or SDS? Which Is Correct?

While these documents were known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) before, that is now a legacy term. The correct term is now Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), which are also expected to contain more standardized data than before.

The change is following the introduction of a Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The United Nations introduced this system of classification in 2011. Its intent was to create a universal standard when it comes to material warnings.

Both types of documents serve the same purpose of detailing hazards for the safety of those working with them. Despite this, the main difference between the sheets is the standardization of the formatting. While any SDS is an MSDS, not all MSDSs are SDSs.

These days, OSHA considers SDS to be the correct standard by which you should work.

The Importance of MSDS or SDS Standards in Ensuring Employee Safety

Keeping your SDSs in good condition and up-to-date will help keep those working for you safe. Checking for compliance with SDS standards will also help prevent liability should an incident occur.

You need to ensure you maintain specific information in your SDSs. The full details of what this universal standard entails are available online. Regardless, the following are a few examples of the data you need to include:

Material Name and Basic Information

This should be both the product’s full name as well as the shortened ID for the specific material. It may also include the name of the company that produced it, allowing you to follow up in case of defects.

Properties of the Material(s)

It is important to convey to your employees the nature of the substance. This includes its properties in normal conditions, such as room temperature and standard pressure. It should also detail its nature in the state you had it delivered in, though, if that is different. 

You should also inform anyone who may come into contact with the material of the stability and reactivity of the substance. Following a risk assessment, cover what could occur with the material under normal conditions.

If your workplace will interact with the material in any way that might alter the results of such a risk assessment, relay that too.

Identifying Hazards and Taking Precautions

You must communicate the type of hazard the material presents, if any, through the use of standardized elements. These include:

  • The material’s appearance
  • A summary of the most significant concerns
  • Any regulatory status the material is under
  • Potential material health effects
  • Route of entry into the body
  • Effects of acute exposure
  • Effects of chronic exposure
  • Other effects the material may have on the body
  • Toxicologically synergistic materials
  • Potential environmental effects

If relevant, these should also include any effects observed in experimental animals.

Proper Handling and Storage

This section should describe a list of sensible precautions necessary for someone to engage in the safe handling of the material. It should include all appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that would keep the handler free from harm. This could include:

  • Skin protection
  • Respiratory protection
  • General hygiene considerations

Failure to include these could lead to harm via not knowing how to protect oneself adequately.

This should also detail how employees need to store the product. This can both prevent reactivity with the environment and prevent exposure.

Not including these details may lead to the contamination of the surrounding environment. This could mean both workers and the general public facing exposure to the substance.

First Steps and First Aid in Case of Exposure

These safeguard workers and others by describing steps to take if someone is exposed to the substance. This section is important to reduce the likelihood of both injury and future disability.

In more extreme cases, first aid may even be necessary to prevent the possibility of death due to exposure. 

One of the main reasons for using MSDSs in such cases is to give this information to people before they start handling hazardous material. There is no time for a worker to go and read up on these documents after an incident. As such, having an accessible method of presenting this information is imperative.

Fire Extinguishing Information

If the material has any potential for causing fire hazards, list the procedures to both prevent and handle such incidents here. This data is important to help anyone discovering a fire choose the appropriate fire extinguisher to use, as well as other steps to take.

Not having an MSDS could lead to workers not displaying the best response. In some cases, this could even cause increased danger for those in the vicinity. It may also cause workers to store materials in locations that result in them being more at risk.

Steps in Case of Accidental Release

These instructions include actions one should take if the product is released from its container. These would include:

  • Immediate response
  • Equipment to use during cleanup
  • Specific dangers

Your own workers may not use this data themselves. Instead, emergency responders or environmental cleanup crews will need it for their role.

Modern Challenges in SDS Management

In the modern world, several problems come with ensuring people understand and follow SDS documents. You must ensure you overcome them if you want to keep your team safe.

Adapting to Changing Regulations

Along with the name change, OSHA may sometimes demand updates on how these documents are stored or handled. You need to ensure you stay compliant at all times.

Information Accuracy Among Distributed Documents

If you have physical documents, it can be hard to know which version people have. Even with digital tools, you need to have the assurance your employees receive the latest training when documents are updated.

Leveraging Technology for Effective SDS Communication

High-quality SDS software can perform several tasks that help you ensure the safety of your employees. 

For example, when SDS documents update, you will want to know that everyone has received a notification of such changes. Knowing when workers have read them will also allow you to follow up with those who have not taken steps to ensure their safety.

Such features both ensure compliance and also promote a culture of protection in the workplace. Failing to act can not only lead to accidents but also liability for mistakes and harm caused.

SDS Solutions Providers

With all the above in mind, it should be obvious what the right approach is to teach safety discipline to your employees. After all, the use of material safety data sheets use is not only about compliance, but an important part of safeguarding an organization.

Kelleher, Helmrich, and Associates (KHA) provide SDS tools to ensure you can do this to the best of your ability. We can discuss and analyze your needs and offer a solution that fits your organization perfectly. So, schedule a demo with us and find out how we can help enhance your company’s safety today.