Material Safety Data Sheets

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Material Safety Data Sheets

The use of a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), as mandated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), is an integral part of hazard communication and "right-to-know" in the work place. An MSDS for a chemical substance is designed to provide both workers and emergency personnel with procedures for handling or working with that substance. An MSDS provides information concerning safe handling procedures, first aid measures, and procedures to be taken when the substance is accidentally spilled or released. MSDSs are provided by the manufacturer and supplier of chemicals and should be available to all employees at all times. MSDSs for many substances are available on the Internet. Many MSDSs are complete, accurate, and informative, while others, especially for those chemicals a manufacturer considers to be proprietary, may be missing key pieces of information. An MSDS must contain (written in English) the information described below.

An MSDS contains information on ingredients and their physical and chemical characteristics. Except for trade secrets, the MSDS gives the specific chemical name, chemical formula, and common names for the ingredients that have been determined by OSHA to be hazardous chemicals (i.e., any chemical that is defined as a physical or health hazard). If the substance is a mixture that has been tested as a whole to determine its hazardous properties, the chemical and common names of the ingredients that contribute to those known hazards and the common names for the mixture are listed.

If the substance is a mixture that has not been tested as a whole, the chemical and common names are listed for all ingredients that are determined to be health hazards and that comprise 1% or more of the mixture; identified as carcinogens and present at 0.1% or more; or determined to present a physical hazard when present in the mixture.

The MSDS also gives information about physical and chemical characteristics that indicate what a material or mixture is like and how it behaves, including boiling point, vapor pressure, vapor density, water solubility, specific gravity, evaporation rate, and reactivity with water and other substances.

An MSDS also contains information describing hazards, precautions, control measures, and emergency procedures. It describes physical hazards such as combustibility, flammability, and explosiveness, and it identifies health hazards, which include acute and chronic hazards that result from exposure, as well as whether the substance is listed as a confirmed or potential carcinogen . In addition, the MSDS gives the applicable precautions for safe handling and use, including steps to be followed if material is spilled or released; waste disposal methods for spilled substances, which must follow federal, state, and local regulations; precautions to be taken in handling and storage; personal protective equipment that are required; signs and symptoms of exposure; and description of routes of entry into the human body during normal usage or a foreseeable emergency. The MSDS describes the applicable control measures such as special fire fighting procedures and extinguishing media and emergency first aid procedures.

Finally, MSDSs describe exposure limits and give information about responsible parties. The document lists the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV), and any other recommended exposure limits that might apply. The MSDS includes the date of preparation or latest revision, with the name of the person responsible for preparing the MSDS being optional. It also lists the name, address, and telephone number of the manufacturer, importer or other responsible party.

[Judith L. Sims ]