Keeping workplaces safe and compliant is not an easy task. I remember the days when my office was filled with mounds of MSDS Notebooks and I spent hours doing research to be sure I knew everything I could about the materials in my facility. But let’s be honest. I wore many hats and although it was arguably the most important, managing safety on site was only part of my daily responsibilities. My guess is that the same applies to many of you. I found that having a standard process when an SDS was received allowed me to better manage the data when maintaining safety procedures.
To that end, I’d like to share six suggestions when you receive an SDS. These steps can help you provide up-to-date hazard visibility and help make a safe and efficient workplace for all employees.
How to Read an SDS
Note the Agency of the SDS
When you receive an SDS, determine the jurisdiction and agency for which it was written. This information is not always clear but can likely be determined from other information on the document. If you are unsure of the agency (OSHA, WHMIS, etc.) don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer to ask. Knowing the agency provides the framework for the rest of the document and the criteria for which classifications and limits are applied. Note: If your SDS was authored by SiteHawk, the agency is clearly defined in section headings and footers of the SDS.
Verify Material Storage
Section 7 identifies handling and storage information for the material. Once it’s on site, you need to know where to put it, right? Review this and follow the instructions, noting location and conditions needed for the material. SiteHawk’s Chemical Area interface enables you to know what chemicals are in specific areas. Using this tool, you can prevent mishandling and improper storage by knowing exactly where materials are located in your facility.
Check PPE and Fire Safety Measures
Sections 5 and 8 of the SDS provide information about the equipment needed to protect workers. As soon as you receive the SDS, make certain protective equipment is available for all those who are exposed to the material. If more equipment is needed, it is imperative that it is obtained to keep workers safe. When using secondary container labels, SiteHawk supports GHS and NFPA label formats. In addition, you can utilize PPE icons on labels to let workers know exactly what they need to properly handle the material and what fire safety equipment to have on hand. This information also can be listed in the Material Summary page.
Examine Exposure Limits
Manufactures use various resources to arrive at exposure limits. It is important that you know what was used by the creators of the SDS, so if this information is not listed on the document, contact the manufacturer to learn whether OSHA PELs, ACGIH, NIOSH or another source was used to arrive at the information listed. Compare this data to internal protective limits to be sure you meet your company’s protocol.
Review First Aid Measures
When an incident happens on site, workers respond in a variety of ways. Workers, and even employers, may panic when a major incident occurs. It is important that you know exactly where to go to (and how to get there quickly) to find appropriate first aid associated with a material. Improper first response can lead to prolonged or worsened injury. When I received an SDS, I familiarized myself with the First Aid procedures and made sure that the proper equipment was present on the floor to treat an incident involving the material. SiteHawk’s Material Summary includes a First Aid section. Use this section to place simple instructions and all safety materials needed so workers can quickly access this information when it’s needed most.
Customize a Safety Card for Every Material
SDSs can be lengthy, cumbersome documents. Much of the information on an SDS is helpful for managers, but irrelevant to other workers (although OSHA required access to the SDS document). Making a “Safety Card” for every material provides managers with a tool to handpick the information you want (such as PPE, storage, handling, pictograms, etc. and place it in an easy-to-read format for a quick reference for your workers. SiteHawk’s Custom Summary tool enables this very thing. With the Custom Summary, you can include your company logo, customize colors, configure sections and include attachments and additional information such as training procedures and other site-specific information.
Keeping a safe workspace is a difficult and never-ending task… but worth every second of your time and attention. If you have questions about how a chemical management system like SiteHawk can help, contact a SiteHawk specialist today.
For more information about the 16-section SDS format, check out SiteHawk’s Reading an SDS infographic.
About the Author
Duncan “Eric” Scrimpshire served as an EHS professional for over 35 years in the manufacturing and oil & gas industries, working with leaders all over the world to drive safety and compliance for global corporations. Eric currently operates a home inspection business in Laurel, MS, and in his spare time, he enjoys fishing, hunting and spoiling his 7-year-old granddaughter.
SiteHawk is a global leader in Chemical Data Intelligence and compliance solutions. Our SaaS software and services deliver a complete approach to SDS and chemical data management, providing data, intelligence and reporting to support safety, compliance and risk management. Organizations in virtually every industry worldwide utilize SiteHawk solutions to manage their hazard communication programs, meet EHS compliance and product stewardship initiatives, manage chemical inventories and data, publish safety data sheets and promote workplace safety.