Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Do You Need a Material Safety Data Sheet?

If your business deals with hazardous materials in any way, you need to familiarize yourself with the information that must be listed on a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). In our technological age, more and more materials that you work with are potentially hazardous and should be treated with care. Businesses are required to use Material Safety Data Sheets in order to comply with OSHA regulations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that business owners have a MSDS for every potentially hazardous material they come into contact with in the course of their daily business activities. The intention is to protect employees, employers, and emergency responders from the effects of materials that may endanger their safety and health. The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) outlines the standard that businesses must follow to be in compliance with federal regulations.

In May of 1986, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring MSDSs for hazardous materials. Responsible for enforcing the Hazardous Communications Standard, OSHA requires that the hazards of every chemical be evaluated to ensure workplace safety. The HCS specifies the required elements and data that each MSDS must contain.

Here is a list of the information that a MSDS provides:

  • Physical data — includes information such as the melting point, boiling point, and flash point of a hazardous material.
  • Toxicity — describes how toxic a chemical is and at what levels of concentration
  • Health effects — gives the possible health effects when workers come into contact with a chemical
  • First aid — lists medical procedures to be taken when workers come into contact with a hazardous material
  • Reactivity — explains how the hazardous material reacts to its environment
  • Storage — gives details on how a hazardous material should be properly stored
  • Disposal — supplies information on how a hazardous material should be properly disposed of
  • Protective equipment — outlines what protective equipment should be used when handling hazardous materials
  • Spill and leak procedures — instructions on what to do in case of an accident
An MSDS can contain more information than OSHA requires, but should never have less. State laws can also have an effect on the content of a MSDS. The OSHA Web site offers a wealth of information on MSDSs and state and federal regulations.

OSHA is very definitive on what constitutes a hazardous material. This includes any material that can be potentially toxic to employees who come into contact with it. The purpose is to ensure the safety and health of employees in the workplace. Companies that manufacture any hazardous materials should supply businesses that buy their product with a MSDS.

An MSDS benefits employers because they reduce the number of on-the-job accidents and cases of workers' compensation. As a small business owner, fewer accidents in the workplace means a safer work environment, translating into lower workers' comp insurance premiums.

As a business owner, you need MSDSs because they protect both you and your employees, and keep you in compliance with government regulations. You can be penalized for noncompliance.

Most MSDS sheets can now be downloaded free of charge from

To organize and properly store MSDSs you will need a MSDS Binder or Right-to-Know Center.

For chemical safety training or Hazard Communication Training please visit the HAZCOM Training Page.