Understanding Safety Data Sheets

Every object has physical and chemical characteristics which define its functionality. These innate properties may come as useful or valuable to human usage while some aspects may be detrimental to health and safety. The latter is specifically true for raw materials and chemical substances being expended or used in consumer product manufacturing firms. Hence, it is important for every person employed in such companies to be well-informed of the proper practices regarding the handling of hazardous chemicals. This is where safety data sheets (SDS), more commonly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), prove to be useful.

Defining SDS
It is a document detailing all coherent information regarding the physical, chemical, and hazardous properties of a certain substance, its manufacturing info, safe usage instructions, and control measures, as well as its required storage and handling procedures. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), under the US Department of Labor, keeps a database of hazardous chemicals known to be used in different industries.

The Need for An SDS
The agency also created the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 29 CFR 1910.1200), which mandates that all employers must refer to and maintain the SDS for all hazardous chemicals being used or generated in their respective companies. These include chemical by-products and chemical wastes being kept in a laboratory or warehouse. These data sheets must be made available by the manufacturers or distributors of the respective chemicals to end-user companies. Data sheets can be kept for long periods of time, so long as the manufacturer has not updated its MSDS or there has not been a significant change in the quality or properties of the product.
Every employee known to be frequently exposed to hazardous chemical substances must fully understand and follow the content of the substances’ SDS. Specialized training must be provided to all concerned personnel.

Information Found in the MSDS
The following topics of concern are indicated in all 16 sections of the MSDS:
1. General product information
2. Hazards information
3. Product composition
4. Possible first aid measures
5. Fire-fighting recommendations
6. Spillage control measures
7. Guide on material handling and storage
8. Exposure limits and personal protective control measures
9. Physical and chemical characteristics of the material/mixtures
10. Chemical reactivity information
11. Toxicological effects of the product
12. Ecological and environmental impact
13. Treatment and disposal
14. Transportation
15. Related regulations
16. Other pertinent information
This may be a long and exhaustive file but each entry stated in its sections are all vital to working with chemicals safely. For example, the self-ignition temperature of a certain chemical can be learned from section 9. It could be deduced, then, that this substance must never be placed in areas with temperatures nearing that value to prevent the event of a fire happening.

When to Use An SDS
The reason these data sheets must be kept by the employer is that they can be referred to anytime. Prior to doing any laboratory activity, chemists and technicians must understand the safety precautions listed in the SDS. When procuring a large volume of a certain substance, suppliers and transporters must know its corresponding handling specifications. When designing a manufacturing process employing such chemicals, engineers must take into considerations all properties specified in the SDS.