Using MSDS Throughout the Facility

In an Executive Summary published in March 2004, OSHA states, "In addition to... workplace uses for hazard information, MSDS have evolved into sources of information on other aspects of chemical use."

When the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) was published in November 1983, OSHA required chemical manufacturers and importers to create MSDSs, and employers to have these documents available for all hazardous chemicals in their workplace.
Although the main intent of an MSDS is to help employers minimize worker exposure to hazardous chemicals, it can be valuable throughout the lifecycle of a chemical to ensure safe storage, use and disposal as well.

A notable chocolate company based in California will not ship their chocolates in the summertime unless the customer agrees to pay for an insulated cooler and express freight. By requiring these two elements, they can be more certain that the parcel arrives without melting.
In industry, chemicals are often shipped in bulk, and packaging doesn't go to this extreme. Some chemicals, however, are cold-, heat- or shock-sensitive, and knowing these physical properties can help ensure that receiving crews handle them safely and properly.

MSDSs list a chemical's physical characteristics, such as temperature limitations or shock sensitivity. Knowing these properties in advance helps in several ways. For example, if the chemical is heat sensitive, receiving crews can be trained to get the product to a cool location promptly. For shock-sensitive materials, proper care can be taken not to jostle the package before it reaches its destination.

Very few facilities have the luxury of complaining about too much storage space. Unfortunately, lack of space sometimes results in shipments being placed in any available spot, rather than in a logical, predictable location. This can lead to a number of problems – especially if the facility has a large inventory.

Knowing the physical properties of a chemical, such as stability, shelf life, flammability and reactivity can help ensure that incompatible materials are not stored beside or on top of each other in racking systems.
Handling and Use

Engineering controls and safe work practices are two more elements of the MSDS that can aid in overall safety. From a health and compliance standpoint, for example, knowing that a chemical has a VOC helps ensure that proper respiratory precautions, such as ventilation and air filtration are taken. Beyond that, this knowledge also tells a safety manager that the containers need to be kept closed, and should probably be grounded.

Physical properties, such as a chemical's viscosity can help in the selection of transfer equipment such as pumps or faucets. When selecting new equipment, contact the supplier — their name and phone number are on the MSDS — for additional information, such as chemical resistance testing or other test data that can aid in selecting the best materials for the application.
Emergency Response

Leaks and spills are very common in industry. A product that may not require any special handling in "normal" use could present problems when spilled in large quantities. Because of this, OSHA requires MSDS to contain basic information on how to handle leaks and spills. [29 CFR 1910.1200(g)(2)(viii)]

Safety Coordinators can use this information to create or modify their facility's safety, spill response, contingency, or other plans, thereby helping to keep their employees and responders safer during emergencies.

When an MSDS suggests the use of absorbents to clean up spills, be sure to verify that the absorbent will not react with the chemical being absorbed. If spills are to be neutralized, the MSDS can alert responders to heat generation, off-gassing or common neutralizing hazards.
Fire fighting instructions are another important MSDS feature. Water-reactive chemicals are noted, and firefighters use this information to choose an appropriate dry chemical or foam extinguishing media when the chemical is involved in a fire situation.

Recycle, Burn or Bury
Checking the MSDS can help when a choice is made to recycle or dispose of chemicals. Land disposal restrictions and other disposal information may also be listed to help make the decision to landfill or commercially incinerate the waste.

In some areas, waste exchanges are a viable option to disposal. Having a copy of the MSDS readily available can help facilitate transactions between companies, and help divert usable chemicals from landfills.

Data such as the chemical's proper shipping name, the United Nations (UN) identification number, hazard class and other similar information can often be located on the MSDS as well, making it easier to comply with DOT manifesting and shipping regulations.

Special shipping precautions may also be listed, as well as any prohibitions. Some materials may not be able to ship by air or sea. Others may require special packaging. When this information is listed on the MSDS, safer shipments are more easily assured.

Completing the Picture
Because MSDS are already onsite for health and safety purposes, accessing them for storage, handling, and emergency information is simplified. Chemical reactions, fires and other workplace hazards can be prevented or minimized by using information contained in an MSDS.
For more information about hazard communication, visit OSHA's Hazard Communication pages.

Karen D. Hamel is a technical specialist for New Pig Corp. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and has over 17 years of experience helping EHS professionals find solutions to environmental, health and safety issues. She is HAZWOPER technician level and NIMS certified, and serves in the Blair County, PA LEPC. She can be reached at 1-800-HOT-HOGS® (468-4647) or by email

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