MSDS – Material Safety Data Sheet

Have you ever heard of the Right-To-Know-Law? It was mandated by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In the United States, every company that either manufactures or distributes hazardous chemicals must prepare a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This mandate can be found in OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard 29CFR 1910.1200, otherwise referred to as the Right-To-Know Law.

Its purpose is to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals either produced or imported in the United States are evaluated, and that information is transmitted to employers and employees. The transmission is accomplished by comprehensive hazard communications programs, which include container labeling and other forms of warning, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) themselves, and employee training.

Additionally, other federal, state and local agencies also mandate content requirements of these sheets. Another law, the Community Right to Know Law (SARA Title III) falls under the domain of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The best way to know which regulations apply to you is to contact both your state and federal OSHA offices.

A MSDS must provide different fundamental information about the chemical that allows the user to recognize and prepare for potential hazards with the chemical and prepare for potential emergency situations. A MSDS may be written in any format, but it must contain the information found in OSHA Form 174. MSDSs should be referred to in case of fire or explosion, before working with a chemical, in the event of a spill, and to prepare risk assessments. They can be complicated to the novice user. For example, Section (g)(2)(i)(C) of the OSHA standard 1920.1200 deals with MSDSs for mixtures. You should consult a MSDS in case of fire or explosion, before working with a chemical, in the event of a spill, and to prepare risk assessments.

MSDS Sections – What are they and what do they mean for me?

Section I. Manufacturer’s Name and Contact Information

Just above section I, you will see the chemical identity as it appears on the label. This is the title of the MSDS. Section I lists information on the manufacturer of the chemical. It provides the details about the manufacturer or supplier of the chemical. It will list the manufacturer’s name, address, telephone number, emergency telephone numbers, and the date that the MSDS was prepared.

Section II. Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information

This section provides the identities of the chemicals in the chemical or product. In this section, you will find the trade names, synonyms, Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number, chemical family, molecular formula, and the molecular weight. If the chemical is a trade secret, the manufacturer does not have to list the exact chemical components. However, the manufacturer must provide regulatory exposure limits and related information on the chemical. This section will identify whether or not the chemical is a significant toxic hazard. It provides relevant regulatory exposure levels. This is where you may find the 8 hour average OSHA PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit). The lower the “safe” exposure limits are, the more toxic a chemical is. For example, a chemical with an exposure limit of 1 PPM (part per million) would be much more toxic than one with an exposure limit of 1,000 PPM. This section will also identify whether SARA Title III (the Community Right to Know Law) applies to the chemical.

Section III. Physical/Chemical Characteristics

This section provides fundamental information about the chemical, and how the conditions it is exposed to may affect it. These include appearance, odor, boiling point, specific gravity, vapor pressure (mm Hg), pH, melting point, vapor density, evaporation rate and solubility in water. This information is important for your safety. For example, if you have an ignition source located on the floor, it’s important to know the density of the flammable vapors. The boiling point or vapor pressure will let you know if it is safe to store the chemical in a non-air conditioned room. The pH will prevent you from mixing acids with bases.

Section IV. Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

In this section, you will find vital information about fire safety and explosion hazards of the chemical. It will list the applicable flash points, flammable limits and needed extinguishing media. It will also provide special fire fighting procedures, if needed, and list any unusual fire and explosion hazards. Some materials may give off toxic fumes when burned, or become explosive under certain conditions.

The flash point is the temperature, above which, the chemical will burn in air. If the chemical has a flash point that can be reached when exposed to heat or fire, you need to worry. A chemical may not ignite by itself, but it might be ignited if it is exposed to direct sunlight, a window, or by being placed too close to a heat source.

Some chemicals can burn or become combustible at normal temperatures, while others are only flammable within certain limits. Different chemicals can ignite at different percentages of volume in air. If you are working in a poorly ventilated environment, you may easily reach the flammable limit of an ordinarily common chemical. Please note that working in a large room does not always prevent reaching the flammability range. If heavier-than-air vapors collect along the floor, or lighter-than-air vapors collect towards the ceiling, you could easily reach a high enough concentration to combust.

Knowing the correct extinguishing media is vital. While your first instinct may be to douse a fire with water or a CO2 extinguisher, certain chemicals actually react with these agents. Water or CO2 added to a sodium metal fire would have the effect of tossing gasoline on the fire.

Section V. Reactivity Data

This section of the MSDS provides information on mixing or storing the chemical with another chemical. This section will list the reactivity hazards with the chemical, storage or usage conditions to avoid, and warnings about incompatibilities with other chemicals. An example would be a MSDS for common bleach. Section V of the MSDS would warn about mixing this chemical with ammonia, and the potential deadly vapor created. This section also contains information about the stability of the chemical. Some chemicals actually break down into hazardous or explosive mixtures when exposed long-term to oxygen.

Section VI. Health Hazard Data

This section lists the routes of entry of the chemical. It may enter a person via inhalation, through the skin, by ingesting, or a combination of all of these. It will also list whether the chemical presents an acute or chronic health hazard. It will also list the carcinogenicity (NTP, IARC monographs, OSHA regulated) of the chemical. It will list the signs and symptoms of exposure, medical conditions aggravated by exposure, as well as emergency and first aid procedures. Because of this, it is vital if you or a coworker needs medical attention due to chemical exposure, you should always take a copy of the MSDS, or the label off the chemical container to the emergency room. The information on the MSDS will assist health professionals in the assessment and treatment of the possible chemical exposure.

Human and animal toxicity will be listed if it is available. If the chemical is known to cause cancer or other diseases, it will be listed here. Often, you may see LD50, which is the dose that causes death in 50% of the test subjects with acute, or short term exposure. This section will be replete with medical terminology and may require a medical dictionary to decipher.

All acute and chronic health effects associated with exposure must be listed in this section. This will include symptoms of exposure as well as medical conditions aggravated by exposure to the chemical. Emergency and first aid procedures must be listed separately for each different route of entry. It is common for reactions to skin exposure to really need 15+ minutes to be washed from body tissue. Always follow the instructions very carefully from this section. If you have a chemical spill, accident or exposure, always seek medical attention even if you feel fine after following first aid or emergency procedures. Some chemicals, like hydrofluoric acid may not irritate the skin of the victim and they may feel fine. However, delayed effects can show up 24 hours later, at which point irreversible and painful bone damage or even death may occur. Therefore, never depend solely on how the victim of a potential chemical exposure feels. Always seek medical attention.

Section VII. Precautions for Safe Handling and Use

This section of the MSDS details the safe storage, use, and disposal of the chemical. It will also provide instructions on what to do in the event of a spill, or if the chemical is released into the environment, whether via air or water or ground spill. It is a good idea to have a response plan for these types of conditions before they occur.

Some of the information may seem to be repeated in the different sections. The reason for this is that an incident with a chemical may involve more than one section of the MSDS. A fire, for example, may release toxic materials that need to be cleaned up in a certain manner once the fire has been extinguished. Always review the entire MSDS as you do not know what section may contain vital information for the circumstances surrounding the specific use of the chemical at your facility.

Section VIII. Control Measures

The final section lists the safety or control measures to be used with the chemical. These include respiratory protection, ventilation (local, mechanical exhaust, special or other), protective gloves, eye protection, protective clothing, and any protective equipment needed. Work and hygienic procedures are also listed in this section. It is vital that all safety measures comply with all federal, state and local regulations. For example, just having a needed respirator is not sufficient according to OSHA. All involved personnel must be correctly fitted and trained in the use of respirators. These listed safety items may not just be “on hand” if needed, personnel must be trained in the effective use of such equipment.

All ventilation must comply with all pertinent federal, state and local regulations. This is especially true regarding chemicals that are discharged into the air or water.

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