Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
In accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Right to Know law, employers are required to ensure that information about workplace hazards and safety issues is made easily available to employees. If there are hazardous chemicals in the workplace, a written hazard communication program must be in place. Manufacturers and distributors of hazardous chemicals are required to produce a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for every chemical that contains hazardous ingredients. The MSDS sheets are distributed to customers who purchase the product. There are over 650,000 hazardous chemicals in workplaces, and an MSDS for each one.
An MSDS identifies the ingredients of dangerous materials and instructs employees about the safe handling, use, storage, and first-aid measures to take if there is an incident with the chemical. Employers are required to keep an MSDS readily available for each hazardous chemical in the workplace. The documents should be kept in bright binders that cannot be removed from the area. Typically, the binders are secured to a holder or shelf with a chain or cable to ensure that they are not misplaced. You can purchase brightly labeled binders that are specifically for MSDSs. A binder should be kept by the employee time clock and/or the employee bulletin board where legal postings are kept, and also within close vicinity of areas where the chemicals are stored. If your company is very small, one binder may be sufficient. One of the important things about the whereabouts of the MSDSs is that an employee has quick access to a binder when it is needed. Keep this in mind as you decide where to place it.
The Right to Know law is OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). This standard is based on the simple concept that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and the identity of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. You can find out more about the standard and training resources at
Place several copies of each MSDS in your binder so that if an employee has to leave the building for medical attention, he can take a MSDS for the chemical with him to the treating facility. Keep them in alphabetical order with tabs to easily identify the chemical name — clear pocket dividers come in handy for this.
Previously, chemical manufacturers did not follow a specific format for reporting information on the MSDSs. This made it more difficult to find information since there was no consistency from one MSDS to the next. For instance, one chemical may have the instructions for addressing skin exposure in the top section of the MSDS, but another may have it at the end. The Chemical Manufacturers Association's (now known as the American Chemistry Council) MSDS work group established a format for MSDSs. This developed into the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z400.2, which is a voluntary standard in MSDS preparation, but most chemical companies are expected to follow the format, making MSDS information quicker to access.
Perform an audit of your MSDS binder(s) frequently. If there is only one copy left of an MSDS, make more copies so that someone doesn't take the last one, leaving you with none. When you receive newly revised MSDSs, discard the old ones and place copies of the new revision in your binder. Also, make sure that you have an MSDS for every chemical on the property. Discard the MSDS forms for chemicals that you no longer use.
State and Federal Compliance
Some states have OSHA-approved safety and health programs with their own specific compliance procedures that may be more stringent than federal regulations. Check with state authorities for additional information you may need to know. These states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York (state and municipal employees only), North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
Employees who do not use chemicals on the job but have access to them are also covered by the Right to Know law. They have a right to know about the potential dangers, the proper use and storage, and what to do if a spill or exposure occurs.
There are two types of hazardous chemicals covered by the HCS. Physical hazards are those that have the potential for flammability or explosions. Health hazards apply to chemicals with acute and chronic effects if employees inhale them or are exposed to them. Proper enforcement of the HCS will help decrease workplace incidents and injuries caused by chemicals, which will help reduce the number of workers' compensation injuries and illnesses.
Get Your HCS in Writing
The federal HCS is your requirement to inform and train workers about the hazards in the workplace, retain warning labels on containers and drums, and ensure that workers know the whereabouts of MSDSs. A written plan that details the HCS should be kept on file and include the following:
A list of all chemicals kept on site
Who is responsible for maintaining MSDSs
How employees will be informed and trained
Which employees will use chemicals and for what purpose
Where the MSDS binders will be located
Who is responsible for ensuring that chemicals are properly labeled
What to do in the event of chemical spill or emergency
A written HCS policy is not needed if employee contact with chemicals is limited to sealed containers. This may apply to retail, warehouse, or transport industries. However, employees need to be trained on what to do in the event of a chemical spill or emergency.