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What is MSDS and what is the importance?

At some point in your orientation for a new job, you’ll probably be told where to find the MSDS forms or book. It’s usually assumed that you know what the MSDS is and why you need to know where to find it. However, not everyone understands what the letters stand for and why it’s important to know where to find them. Of course, if you don’t know and it seems like everyone else does, you usually don’t want to ask.

So here is an explanation of what it is and why you should care.

MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. Sometimes, it’s just SDS for Safety Data Sheet or PSDS for Product Safety Data Sheet.

The Material Safety Data Sheet is a form that gives you all the information for handling or safely working with a particular substance – usually a chemical, chemical compound or a chemical mixture. It generally gives you all the information you would need to know if you’re going to use a particular item, product or material in your job tasks.

Material Safety Data Sheet

Primarily, MSDS forms are used to inform workers and assist emergency services. Workers need to know what items they’re likely to come into contact with – and how to safely use them. Emergency workers need to know in order to treat personnel or address potential hazards during a fire or other emergency.

These forms have been modified over the years but are now fairly standard across the globe. The United States adopted the new form in 2012.  By June 1, 2015, all employers were required to use the updated forms.

According to Wikipedia, there are 16 standard sections for the global sheets:

      1. Identification – tells the product, its uses, how it shouldn’t be used, and an emergency phone number.
      2. Hazards – tells how the substance is classified, the label information and other hazards.
      3. Composition – what’s in the product and anything that is mixed into it.
      4. First Aid – what to do if you come into contact with the substance, symptoms and effects (immediate and any delayed reactions), and any immediate medical attention or special treatment that should be provided.
      5. Firefighting – tells what to do if the substance catches on fire, any hazards from it burning and other information firefighters should know.
      6. Accidental release – what procedures, precautions and protective equipment are recommended, how to contain and clean up the material, and other environmental precautions.
      7. Handling and Storage – how to safely handle the substance, how to safely store it, what not to store it with and specific end uses.
      8. Exposure controls/personal protection – the parameters for controlling the material and exposure to it.
      9. Physical and chemical properties
      10. Stability and reactivity – explains how it reacts, possible hazardous reactions, conditions to avoid, and incompatible materials.
      11. Toxicological information – how you can be exposed to the product and what the resulting symptoms would be.
      12. Ecological information – how persistent the product is, how it degrades, and the potential for accumulating.
      13. Disposal considerations – how to dispose of the product and any packaging.
      14. Transportation information – including the proper name and special precautions
      15. Regulatory information
      16. Other information – including the date the sheet was last modified.

Now that you know the information contained on the sheets, you can understand why all employees must be aware of the potentially harmful substances in the workplace.

If a liquid splashed onto your skin or into your eye, the MSDS would tell you what to do and whether or not washing would be sufficient to address the contact, or if a hospital visit were necessary.

If you were asked to move a container of chemicals, you’d know the proper way to do so – and where you shouldn’t store it (like next to a heat source).

Whenever you work with a product that could be hazardous, you should always review the MSDS: know the name of the chemical, know the hazards of using it, understand how to safely handle it and store it, and know what to do in the event of an emergency.

And the next time you’re told where to find the MSDS, be sure to take note – and take the time to review the sheets for all the materials you’ll be working with.

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