Unfortunately, hazardous materials are part of our lives. Many workers see them on their job every day and avoiding them is not an option. Hazardous chemicals come in many varieties with multiple dangers and problems. Protecting yourself from the hazards associated with these chemicals and knowing what to do in an emergency are imperative.
This is where the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) comes into play. It contains the answers that workers need to guide them in the safe use, storing and transporting of hazardous chemicals. However, reading information in Material Safety Data Sheets has often been a problem due to the complex variety of ways the data is presented in the sheets. Recently, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has created a standard format for Material Safety Data Sheets. This format is well on its way to being an industry standard and can greatly reduce the complexity of Material Safety Data Sheets.
While OSHA requires through the “Right-to-Know” regulations that chemical manufacturers must provide MSDS on their products, it does not require a standard format be used. Because of this, the organization and technical language of Material Safety Data Sheets can be confusing and in an emergency when the quick gathering of information is critical, the results can be tragic. Because of this, the Chemical Manufacturers Association in conjunction with the American National Standard Institute created the ANSI Standard Z400.1. While compliance with the standard is voluntary, many major chemical manufacturers as well as users have adopted the ANSI MSDS format.
The ANSI standard is presented in an “as needed” order – emergency instructions first, basic safety next, then lastly technical data. The standard is designed to answer four basic questions: What is the material and what are its hazards? What do to if a problem occurs? What precautions to take? Is there anything else I should know about this material?
Section I identifies the material and lists its product name, its generic chemical name, its common name, the manufacturers contact information and lastly an emergency telephone number. Section II provides the ingredients in the material. It requires the hazardous components be listed but sometimes the non-hazardous are listed as well.
Section III provides the emergency overview and potential health effects of the material. The emergency overview is first followed by the key hazards that demand your attention first followed by the potential health effects of those hazards. These include symptoms and a note to physicians.
Sections IV, V and VI cover what to do if a problem occurs when working with the material. This includes first aid measures, fire fighting instructions, hazards that occur if the fire burns, what to do in case of a spill or release and decontamination procedures.
Sections VII, VIII, IX and X cover precautions to take to prevent problems working with the material including safe handling, storage, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, exposure guidelines, Physical and chemical properties of the material and stability and reactivity.
The last sections answer the fourth question of ANSI. Is there anything else I should know about the material? This section usually covers toxological information, ecological information, disposal considerations, transport information and regulatory information. These sections are generally used under the guidance of health and safety professionals and not by the general worker.
It is important to note that MSDS are not the only sources of chemical information and container labels and warning stickers should also be read along with emergency plans and hazard communication program literature. Every worker should be as informed as possible.
Material Safety Data Sheets are designed to make every worker more safe, the ANSI data sheets have taken safety a step further. General workers can now feel safe that they can read, understand and find critical information more quickly.