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Chemical Safety: Understanding and Maintaining Safety Data Sheets

Chemical Safety: Understanding and Maintaining Safety Data Sheets

Is your organization one of the millions of workplaces in the U.S. that uses chemicals? Chemicals are found in numerous industries and used in a wide variety of tasks, from cleaning products to farming to manufacturing processes. Although helpful, if not correctly addressed, chemicals can present an array of health hazards, such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity, in addition to physical dangers, such as flammability, corrosion, and explosibility. Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment and training employees to take proper precautions when working with chemicals. Safety Data Sheets are crucial in providing comprehensive information about the potential hazards, safe handling procedures, and emergency measures associated with these substances. 

What are Safety Data Sheets?

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), are standardized documents created by a chemical manufacturer that provides detailed information about potentially hazardous chemical substances. Every chemical has a corresponding SDS, organized into 16 predetermined sections, each addressing specific aspects of the substance. SDSs are not intended for general consumers. Instead, they provide detailed safety information about working with the chemical substance in an occupational setting. 

If We Already Have MSDSs, Can We Use Those Instead?

Many employers are familiar with the previous MSDS system. The MSDS and SDS system is essentially the same, with the purpose remaining unchanged. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS) as a method to standardize chemical data sheets and chemical container labels, regardless of the company of origin. The previous MSDS system was not standardized, allowing countries to utilize the chemical data sheets differently. The updated SDS system follows the GHS standards, specifying what information is required on the data sheets and how it must be organized. Employers still utilizing MSDS systems must update their data sheets to the SDS format. 

Why are Safety Data Sheets Important?

SDSs are designed to help workers, emergency responders, and others who encounter chemical substances understand the associated risks and the safety precautions that must be taken. SDSs serve as valuable resources for workplace safety by:

  • Identifying Hazards. SDSs contain comprehensive information on substances' physical, chemical, and toxicological properties. This includes details on flammability, reactivity, health hazards, and environmental impact. By knowing the dangers, employers can implement proper safety measures, and employees can take necessary precautions while handling these chemicals.

  • Ensuring Safe Handling and Storage. SDSs provide guidelines on safely handling, storing, and transporting hazardous materials. They outline personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, necessary ventilation, and spill response procedures. This information empowers workers to handle substances safely and minimizes the risk of workplace incidents and injuries.

  • Aiding in Emergency Response. If there is a chemical spill, leak, fire, or other emergency, the chemical’s SDS provides critical instructions for emergency response personnel. SDSs outline appropriate firefighting measures, first-aid procedures, and steps to contain and mitigate the impact of the hazardous substance. Quick access to this information can help save lives and limit the damage caused by incidents.

  • Complying With Regulations. SDSs are legally required in the U.S. as part of occupational health and safety regulations. Compliance with these regulations ensures a safe working environment and protects organizations from potential legal liabilities and penalties.

What are the Requirements?

Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace are required to follow the OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, which specifies that employers must provide information and training to their workers about the hazardous chemicals to which they may be exposed. This information must be communicated via a comprehensive Hazardous Communication program. As part of this program, SDSs must be made readily accessible to workers. 

In addition to making SDS readily accessible, employers must:

  • Develop a chemical inventory list. This list outlines identifying information to help find a chemical’s corresponding SDS. This information should include the product identifier (such as a common name), the proper product name, and the manufacturer’s name and contact information. This list should be updated as new chemicals enter the facility and old products are retired. It’s also a best practice to note where the chemicals are stored in the workplace for easy location.

  • Ensure there is a current SDS for every chemical in the workplace. SDS information occasionally changes, so employers should check for updated SDS versions when chemicals are purchased. It’s also essential that employers maintain an SDS for every chemical purchased. The exception to this rule is when a consumer-type chemical, such as a kitchen cleaning spray, is purchased in a consumer-type quantity for a consumer-type purpose and used at a consumer-type frequency. In this situation, the employer does not need to keep an SDS. 

  • Train employees. At the time of initial assignment, workers who may be exposed to hazardous substances must be trained on their organization’s Hazard Communication program and its elements, including SDSs. This is also true whenever a new hazard is introduced to the work area and when a worker may be exposed to another employer’s hazardous materials, such as third-party contractors. Employees should know how to locate and use SDSs. OSHA often cites employers for workers not knowing this information.  

  • Maintain SDSs for 30 years from the last date of use. Some employers may be shocked to learn that they must keep SDSs for 30 years from the last use date! This long retention period is because SDSs are considered employee exposure records. There have been times when illnesses have been linked to hazardous substance exposure from many years before, such as asbestos exposure for construction workers. For this reason, employers must archive SDSs no longer in use instead of disposing of them. 

It’s important to note that employers in states with state-run safety agencies, such as those found in Washington, Oregon, and California, must adopt measures that meet or exceed these federal requirements. Employers are encouraged to check their state for additional rules. 

How Should Safety Data Sheets Be Stored?

As you can imagine, finding a system to stay organized is vital to keeping SDSs current and available in the event of an emergency. Employers are encouraged to think about the best way to accomplish this organization. Many workplaces keep an active collection of SDSs and the consequent inventory list in a binder. Some employers utilize an electronic system that archives chemicals no longer used to keep the current SDS library manageable. 

Although adding SDSs to a binder that workers can access is a simple solution, binders can become mismanaged and even damaged when left on a shop floor. If not kept current or formatted in a way to make finding a needed SDS easy, the purpose of the management system is lost. Online systems can solve these issues, but all workers need access to the information, and many systems can be complicated to set up. Additionally, workers still need access to SDSs even if the power goes out. 

Archbright encourages employers to find a happy medium to address these issues. Having an SDS Administrator, typically the person(s) responsible for purchasing chemicals, set up an online system can keep the SDS library current and organized. Providing employees with a shared kiosk and read-only access to this information makes it available and easy to retrieve. Going a step further and laminating copies of the chemicals that workers use most often and then making them available in workstations solves for emergency situations. 

Are There Any Other Requirements?

In addition to the Hazard Communication requirements listed above, as part of GHS, chemical containers must be labeled with specific GHS labels. The information on original-shipped chemical containers must include a signal word, pictograms which are images that communicate the substance’s hazards, a hazard statement, and a precautionary statement for each hazard class and category. All this information can be found on the chemical’s SDS. Employers who utilize secondary containers for chemicals, such as dispensing a small amount of a chemical from a drum into a smaller container for use, must utilize secondary container labels, which can be in the form of a simplified GHS label, a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) label, or a U.S. Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) label. 

How Can Archbright Help?

Safety Data Sheets are essential tools that contribute to workplace safety by providing crucial information on hazardous substances. Making the information available to workers, emergency responders, and others who encounter these substances in the workplace allows them to understand the risks and take precautions to protect themselves, others, and the environment. Employers must have a well-designed system that makes this information available without delay. 

For this reason, Archbright has created a new mozzo Safety Data Sheet feature. This feature makes managing an SDS library and printing secondary container labels a snap. Employers with mozzo access can quickly create an electronic SDS library that allows workers to view, download, and print SDSs when needed. The feature automatically builds and updates the chemical inventory list as SDSs are added or modified. When chemicals are no longer used, employers can add the corresponding SDS to an archive library, keeping the chemical inventory list current and the archived information stored for the mandatory retention period. If chemicals go back into service, the function can be reversed. Workers also can print secondary container labels in the GHS, NFPA, and HMIS formats on demand. The mozzo Safety Data Sheet feature has been designed with simplicity and convenience in mind, making it an easy choice for SDS management. 

In addition to the mozzo Safety Data Sheet feature, employers can view and assign Hazard Communication and Safety Data Sheet Microlearnings in the mozzo Video Library and find several related templates, including a sample Hazard Communication Program, in the mozzo Resource Library. Employers interested in learning more about mozzo and its many features are encouraged to contact info@archbright.com.

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